Anna Wootton

Get Spicy! Embrace the Health Benefits of Spices

“Let food be thy medicine.” – Hippocrates

This is basically the thesis statement (in my mind, not officially!) of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, where I was trained as a holistic health coach. The idea of healing your body’s chronic and non-acute ailments – and preventing future ones – through your diet is an ancient one yet we’ve lost sight of it in recent years.

I think it’s the assumption that you have to eat nothing but carrots and lettuce and survive on a tasteless, bland diet that puts people off this notion. It’s important to remember that healthy eating is absolutely delicious. It’s true that as you clean up your eating, your tastebuds will change, finding cleaner foods more delicious than ever, and unhealthy foods too rich, sweet, salty, greasy – you name it. But that doesn’t mean that you won’t enjoy healthy foods until your tastebuds have shifted. It’s so easy to make your food taste good!One way, of course, is to introduce spices into your cooking and your diet. They have been used for centuries to treat common ailments and they make everything taste phenomenal.

  • CRUSHED RED PEPPER: This can really boost your metabolism, and that’s all down to the capsaicin that is found in the chile pepper. Replace the chili powder with crushed red pepper flakes – or use both – in this recipe for meatless lentil tacos.
  • CUMIN: As I reported in my previous spices post, cumin is great for digestion, kicking colds and even has been reported to be effective in shrinking tumours. Now research is showing that its anti-inflammatory properties are great for boosting memory and lowering stress levels. Enjoy this Indian/Italian hybrid meal – it’s one of my favourites and so delicious – and enjoy a spice party: it includes cumin, fennel, ginger AND ground coriander!
  • CINNAMON: Yes, as I wrote before, cinnamon is great for lowering cholesterol, it has powerful antiviral properties and it is effective at regulating your blood sugar, as it slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. However, it also offers manganese, a mineral that is essential in maintaining bone density, so you are helping your bone health as well! You can increase the amount of cinnamon in this recipe and it will still be delicious – nothing better than apples and cinnamon! I have this compote on its own for a naturally sweet treat, or on top of pancakes or waffles. Yum!
  • CLOVES: When ground, cloves release a compound called eugenol, which can soothe your stomach. Try some in your tea or in a smoothie when your stomach is playing up. Try adding a pinch of ground cloves to any smoothie recipe – the flavour should work with anything, just don’t go too heavy – cloves are strong!
  • GINGER: Gingerol, an anti-inflammatory that can help reduce muscle pain, is ideal for consuming after an intense workout or when you’re experiencing menstrual cramps. As I wrote before, it’s of course well known as a stomach settler, and its anti-inflammatory benefits also mean it’s valuable for those suffering from arthritis or other autoimmune disorders. As it thins the blood, it’s also helpful for preventing heart disease. Make the Riso alla Orientale dish I referenced above under CUMIN, or try a sweet treat by checking out my copycat (yet healthier!) Starbucks ginger molasses cookies, in my cookbook.
  • TURMERIC: The wonders with turmeric never cease. As I wrote before, it has anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, so this is a spice powerhouse! Curcumin, the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agent in turmeric, has now been shown to help reduce depression. This spice is good for mind and body, so eat up! It’s not in the original recipe, but try adding a pinch to this roasted butternut squash soup recipe of mine. I find it adds a real nice kick to an otherwise mild, smooth soup, and of course, it just boosts the colour.