For those familiar with superfoods, you’ve probably already guessed that the more of these whole food powerhouses you get in your diet, the better your health and well-being. But you may not know that the same goes for many of the spices you probably cook with every day. These so-called superfood spices not only add a dose of delicious flavor to your meal, but they also pack a powerful nutritional punch. So, with that in mind, we invite you to read on to discover our personal picks for five superfood spices no kitchen should be without.
5 Must-Have Superfood Spices
While you’d probably be hard-pressed to find a single spice that hasn’t been hailed throughout history as a panacea for whatever ails you, not all spices are created equal. So we’ve put together a list of five of the most potent, most researched, and most impressive superfood spices out there.
Turmeric has been used as both food and medicine for almost 4,000 years. And while it continues to play an important role in the diet and religious ceremonies of Southeast Asia—and is an integral component of Indian cuisine as well as Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine—it’s only now beginning to catch on in the West.
Traditionally, turmeric has been used to strengthen the body, manage digestive problems, cure infections, dispel worms, treat cancer, regulate menstruation, dissolve gallstones, and relieve the pain and swelling of arthritis.
But turmeric’s health benefits don’t stop with tradition. In fact, more and more studies are demonstrating just how powerful this ancient spice really is.
The main active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin—a polyphenol that possesses significant antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s these properties that help make turmeric so beneficial, as oxidative damage from free radicals can lead to prolonged, excessive inflammation, which is linked to many chronic and age-related diseases, including heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer.
In fact, studies have shown that rates of certain types of cancer are dramatically reduced in countries where turmeric is consumed as part of the daily diet.
Turmeric can also help prevent and treat ulcers by protecting the stomach lining and even stopping the growth of Helicobacter pylori—the main cause of gastric ulcers.
While researchers typically use doses of 500 to 2,000 milligrams of turmeric daily, many studies use an extract that contains higher amounts of curcumin than that seen in the regular cooking spice. This is because the amount of curcumin in turmeric is only about 3%, which means you’d have to eat a lot of curry every day to see many benefits.
So if you want to get the most out of turmeric, your best bet is to look for a standardized supplement that contains around 95% curcumin.
But beyond being delicious, cinnamon is also packed with beneficial phytochemicals that offer a number of health benefits. Two of these, cinnamaldehyde and eugenol, have been found to be responsible for many of cinnamon’s antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antifungal, antiprotozoal, antiviral, and antibacterial properties.
In fact, studies have found that the phytochemicals in cinnamon can reduce the severity of rheumatoid arthritis, aid wound healing, and protect against dental cavities, liver damage, cancer, and the buildup of the abnormal proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
And that’s not all.
Cinnamon has also been shown to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels, making it a potential treatment for both type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
And its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties have been shown to promote gut health by preventing the formation of gastric ulcers and even preventing bacterial infections. A 2017 study found that cinnamon acts like a prebiotic, promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria and suppressing the growth of pathogenic bacteria.
But in case you’re still not impressed with cinnamon’s antioxidant power, a 2005 study investigating the antioxidant activity of 26 different spices found that cinnamon was more potent than all others tested, including garlic and oregano.
Cuminum cyminum, the dried seeds of which are ground to create the spice we know as cumin, is a member of the parsley family. Cumin has been revered as both food and medicine for at least 5,000 years and is widely used in a variety of cuisines, from Asian to Indian, Middle Eastern, and Mexican.
Cumin makes our spice list because it, too, is chock-full of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich phytochemicals. But it contains important minerals, too, especially iron. In fact, just 1 teaspoon of cumin contains almost 20% of the recommended daily intake.
Cumin has been found in studies to aid digestion and lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. It also has antifungal and antibacterial properties and has even been shown in several studies to reduce antibiotic resistance in some bacteria.
Interestingly, studies on rodents have also found that cumin is effective at treating addiction and reducing symptoms of withdrawal.
Due to the labor-intensive process required to harvest it, cardamom is one of the world’s most expensive spices, ranking just behind saffron and vanilla. But like the other spices on our list, cardamom boasts a ton of health benefits.
The abundant antioxidants in cardamom mean this spice has impressive free radical-scavenging abilities that help reduce levels of oxidative stress and inflammation.
Like cinnamon, cardamom is effective for many digestive problems and is often included as part of a medicinal spice blend for the treatment of nausea, vomiting, and gastric ulcers.
Cardamom has also been found in studies to kill strains of oral bacteria known to cause cavities, and its extracts and essential oils have been found to be effective against a wide range of bacteria and yeasts, including E coli, Staphylococcus, Salmonella, and Candida.
In addition, studies have found that cardamom helps relax the airways and improve oxygen uptake. What’s more, it helps lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar and prevent fat buildup in the liver. And its many phytonutrients have also been found to help stop the growth of cancer cells.
If you’re not familiar with saffron, it could be because this spice is considered the most expensive in the world. In fact, it takes so many flowers to create saffron that just 1 pound can cost $1,500 or more.
But this exotic spice is also one of the healthiest on the planet. In addition to its valuable phytochemicals, it contains an impressive array of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B6, vitamin C, folate, and potassium.
Saffron has been used for over 3,000 years, not only as food and medicine but also as dye and perfume. Throughout this time, it’s been known for its many health benefits and has been used to treat everything from anxiety and depression to menstrual problems, poor vision, infections, and skin, respiratory, cardiovascular, and nervous systems disorders.
And modern studies have backed up these traditional uses. Not only are its polyphenols and carotenoids powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatories that can relieve pain and reduce the risk of chronic disease, but they’ve also been found to improve mood, reduce symptoms of PMS, promote weight loss, improve eyesight in people with age-related macular degeneration, and improve memory in people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Get More Superfood Spices in Your Diet
Research into the potential health benefits of these five common spices is ongoing, but it’s clear that including more of these superfoods in your daily diet can increase your health and well-being. And considering the flavor they bring to everything from meat and veggies to your favorite desserts, this is one pill that shouldn’t be hard to swallow.
So whether it’s savory dishes, marinades, or even sweet treats like our mango lassi smoothie, we can’t think of a better way to create healthy food and a healthy life!