To add health benefits to meals, start with the spice drawer. Loaded with antioxidants, these flavorful alternatives to salt, fat or sugar are the perfect ingredient to tasty and healthful meals.
“Spices are a great concentrated source of antioxidants — higher than most foods — which protect us from harmful free radicals that damage our cells by causing inflammation,” said Registered Dietitian Mica Ward of Samaritan North Lincoln Hospital.
“Inflammation has been linked to chronic disease such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease,” Ward said. “Antioxidants minimize that cell damage.”
Ward says to avoid frying or grilling spice-covered foods, as these cooking processes can diminish a spice’s effectiveness as an antioxidant.
“Simmering, stewing or microwaving are better for keeping the beneficial properties intact,” she said.
While all spices offer healthful properties, Ward recommends these four for added health:
This spice contains a compound called curcumin, which studies show inhibit the growth of cancer cells, helps to prevent arthritis and Alzheimer’s and helps to minimize carpal tunnel syndrome. Because it lacks a strong flavor, turmeric can be added liberally to soups, salads and cereals.
As an anti-inflammatory, ginger can treat nausea and stimulate appetite. “Buy it as a root and cut it into chunks for freezing or grate it first and freeze in an ice cube tray,” Ward said. Add ginger to sautéed vegetables or smoothies.
Garlic has been heavily researched and is known for cancer-fighting properties and an ability to lower cholesterol and triglycerides. “Garlic is a good flavor alternative to salt and fat,” Ward noted.
Cinnamon has been studied as a preventative to Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. A half-teaspoon daily is shown to lower glucose levels and triglycerides. Because this spice is naturally sweet, use it in place of sugar, which is another benefit to those with diabetes. There is also research to indicate that the spice helps improve blood circulation.
Spices can help us eat foods that are good for us, simply by adding more flavor, Ward noted.
“Because spice helps add flavor to vegetables and fruit, we will want to eat more of them in our diet, which is better for our health,” Ward added. “We need to think of food as medicine and to understand that what we put in our bodies matters to our overall health.”
Herbs are another way you can add extra flavor and nutrients to a meal. Living herbs can make great gifts too – learn more!
To learn more about a healthy diet, ask your doctor for a referral to a referral to a registered dietitian.