Therapeutic Spices in Your Pantry

By Claire Bacon, ACN, CNC

Here we have some exciting education for you about the spices in your pantry!  By increasing your use of these therapeutic spices in your everyday life, you can combat all kinds of threats to your health!

Whether you take herbs and spices as supplements or use them as ingredients in recipes and beverages, using them daily can have profound effects. Herbs and spices can help you recover from a simple stomachache to preventing more serious things like heart disease or stroke. These spices, all readily available, contain vital compounds that not only could improve your health today, but could prevent a health issue in the future.

Rather than looking to isolate a singular active compound from a spice, it’s really the whole food that has the most optimal effect on cellular tissues.  The synergy that has been created in Nature can never be reproduced in a lab.  That’s why we are in love with whole food-based supplements and in choosing ways to use your food as medicine!

Common Therapeutic Spices

Herbs and spices have the potential for normalizing all sorts of hormones in the body and supporting all body systems. Here we have a quick summary of the most well-known herbs you probably have on hand – just because they also have wonderful flavor!

The following spices are known to inhibit the production of amyloid plaques in the brain, and therefore, are considered to be neuro-protective: 

  • Cinnamon,
  • Ginger,
  • Sage,
  • Rosemary and
  • Turmeric. 

It is becoming more and more accepted that long-standing inflammation is the root cause of many chronic diseases. Bringing down inflammation should be top priority for anyone looking to improve their health. These spices are anti-inflammatory in nature: 

  • Basil,
  • Cloves,
  • Marjoram,
  • Oregano,
  • Parsley, and
  • Tarragon.

For anti-microbial activity, you can cut down on yeast and fungal overgrowth in the gut. Top anti-microbial spices include:

  • Clove,
  • Garlic,
  • Thyme,
  • Oregano,
  • Cinnamon, and
  • Cumin. 

We will cover a few of these in detail below…

Cinnamon

Cinnamon ranks high in fighting inflammation. By upping your cinnamon intake (in your smoothie or coffee, for example), you could potentially help prevent inflammatory issues caused by poor circulation and blood sugar dysregulation. Cinnamon is known to fight infection, ease inflammation, and reduce blood pressure.  Furthermore, it has been shown to improve blood glucose and lipid levels in diabetic patients.   Cinnamon is also anti-microbial, and is helpful against multiple kinds of bacteria, including salmonella, E. coli, staphylococcus and bacterial biofilms.

And what’s our favorite way to eat more cinnamon? In delicious Baked Apples, of course!

Can you guess one of our favorite supplements that contains Cinnamon? It’s Metabol Complex! An essential part of getting sugar handling issues under control.

 Cocoa/Cacao

Yes!  Who needs an excuse to get more chocolate in your diet?  Cocoa can be helpful in lowering blood pressure, and can help increase nitric oxide levels in the blood, which helps blood vessels function better. However, because cocoa loses a significant amount of flavanols when it is heated or processed, the health benefits of milk chocolate, for example, are much lower than for dark chocolate or especially, raw cacao powder.

Because of the impact that flavanol-rich cocoa has on the circulatory system and with lowering blood pressure, it is considered to be cardio-protective.  The same flavanols that improve circulation may also help with the pressure and quality of blood flow around your brain. Studies have found that a daily intake of quality raw cacao powder can help improve brain function in the elderly.

Our favorite way to get raw cacao in our diet is with a Paleo Chocolate Smoothie. It’s a delicious way to start your day!

Garlic

Mmm… who doesn’t love the pungent smell of garlic rolls coming from the kitchen?  From the allicin (the antibacterial compound that gives garlic that strong, sulfur-like smell) to the many other compounds (including arginine, oligosaccharides, selenium, and flavonoids) in this spice, garlic is packed with a combination of factors that promote good health.

Garlic is anti-bacterial and is known to boost the body’s immune system. Diallyl sulfide, a compound in garlic, was found to be 100 times more effective than two popular antibiotics in fighting the Campylobacter bacterium, according to this study.  This bacterium is a common cause of intestinal infections.

This compound has also been found to protect the heart during cardiac surgery and after a heart attack.  In experiments using laboratory mice, the mice that had received diallyl sulfide had 61 percent less heart damage in the area at risk, compared with the untreated mice.

Of course you know, garlic is a staple in all Italian cooking. You might also like to try this recipe for Garlic Lime Shrimp. It will get your family’s attention at dinner tonight!

When you need a concentrated form of garlic, or an easier way to get it in every day, try Garlic Forte! It’s awesome for gut issues, and also excellent for the heart!

Ginger

Ginger can do many things to promote health!  If you suffer from motion sickness, morning sickness, or other types of nausea, ginger can be the new friend you’re looking for. It’s incredibly versatile, as you can use it in several forms to achieve the same effects.  Whereas the powdered version is great for cooking, you can also chop fresh ginger root into your daily smoothie, steep it into a cup of hot tea or add to your vegetable stir-fry. Or, this Holiday Chicken recipe is a wonderful use of ginger!

You could also add 1 drop of ginger essential oil to your pumpkin spice latte or any other recipe that calls for ginger.

Ginger is loaded with antioxidants and potent anti-inflammatory properties.  It has been studied extensively, and has been found to provide many benefits:

  • Promotes digestion – Ginger helps to relieve gastrointestinal irritation, stimulates saliva and bile production, and enhances motility through the GI tract.
  • Promotes circulation and internal warmth – Ginger is a warming spice that promotes heat to the extremities and sweating, warming the body from within.
  • Reduces joint pain, swelling and general inflammation
  • Anti-bacterial – the compounds in ginger work against many kinds of bacteria in your mouth, helping fight gum disease and bad breath.
  • Alleviates menstrual pain – In a 2009 study, 150 female participants who took one gram of ginger powder per day for the first three days of their menstrual period reported that their pain was reduced as effectively by the ginger as by over-the-counter drugs. (An essential oil blend is very helpful here!)

Turmeric

If you’re familiar with curry, you may know what gives it that yellow color—turmeric, a spice that’s been used in both cooking and medicine in India for thousands of years. Modern scientists have analyzed turmeric and realized that its main active compound, curcumin, is a strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytochemical.

However, the content of curcumin in turmeric is only about 3 percent, and it’s not absorbed very well by the human body.  Generally, you should consume turmeric with black pepper and/or other compounds like essential fatty acids and certain fibers to help increase its bioavailability.  Healthy fats, such as raw nuts and seeds, coconut, or a coconut or other nut milk, increase absorbability because turmeric is fat soluble. Black pepper contains a component called piperine that studies have shown increases absorbability of the curcumin.

Turmeric has a long list of health benefits and is considered one of the best anti-inflammatory supplements you can choose. If you’re experiencing chronic joint and muscle soreness, turmeric can be beneficial.  This yellow-orange spice is commonly used in curries, but it’s a delicious addition to just about any meal, especially roasted cauliflower or ethnic dishes – especially falafels! Turmeric also helps to ease digestive issues, promotes liver function, and has infection-fighting properties.

Although it’s easy to cook with turmeric, it’s even easier to take a supplement! Turmeric Forte is one of our favorites, because it also contains Fenugreek fiber, which holds the turmeric in the bloodstream longer, increasing its effectiveness and anti-inflammatory action.

Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne pepper is a little spice that goes a long way. A whiff of this red pepper can make you sneeze, if you’re not careful. But if used in the right amount, it can soothe even the sorest of throats. It sounds counter-intuitive but mixing a dash of cayenne pepper into a cup of warm water and honey creates a great remedy for that scratchy throat. Just a few sips, and the cayenne pepper creates a numbing effect, proving that you can beat fire with fire. In addition to its pain-relieving properties, cayenne promotes circulation, and eases cramps, headaches, nerve pain, and even lowers cholesterol.

Just a little cayenne goes a long way! You only need a little bit in this Spicy Chicken Soup recipe!

Golden Milk Blend

Simply combine turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom with a mug of warmed nut milk. Play with the proportions to get the flavor you’re looking for.  For sweetness, add in a little honey and coconut oil. Of course, you could mix these from scratch. But for simplicity, we really love the Gaia Herbs Golden Milk blend.

Whip this up with a milk frother or a Magic Bullet, and you’ve got a wonderful health-boosting drink that’s safe to enjoy every day.

Bitter Herbs for Digestion

Bitter herbs have been used throughout history to stimulate digestion and help with a variety of ailments. The most well-known herbs include:

  • Artichoke
  • Milk thistle
  • Chamomile
  • Dandelion
  • Fennel
  • Gentian
  • Turmeric
  • Yarrow

Bitters are popular because they give flavor to special cocktails. This is one of our best health tips we recommend for people wanting to cut down on alcohol… Just ask the bartender for a splash of bitters in your water! Most bars keep Angostura on hand, although there are many other great choices! A splash of bitters will support your digestion, and give a little flavor to your drink. Plus, it looks like a cocktail, so no one will bother to ask why you’re not drinking!

If you’re looking for an easy supplement to support all parts of your digestion, look no further than Digest Forte. It contains Gentian, Ginger, Tangerine, Wormwood and Feverfew herbs. It’s good to stimulate saliva, promote stomach acid, ease a sour stomach, or prevent both constipation and diarrhea. It’s a truly wonderful all-in-one!

Final Thoughts on Therapeutic Spices

We hope these tips inspire you to try a few new things with your spices on hand. Who knew – you already hold the key to anti-inflammatory support right there in your spice rack! How about that!

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