Spices give food tons of flavor, of course—and many of them happen to be very healthy for you, too. These five are commonly used in cooking and have potent therapeutic benefits.
Turmeric has reached superfood status because of its inflammatory properties. It contains a substance called curcumin and studies show it can both reduce brain inflammation (and benefit those with Alzheimer’s and depression) and ease the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. Turmeric may help fight cancer as well: A study at Johns Hopkins found that combining curcumin and chemotherapy was more effective at shrinking tumors than chemotherapy alone. Drink it in teas and lattes; it’s also an ingredient in curry powder.
Ginger is both an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant that’s best known for its ability to ease digestion, fight nausea, and ward off colds and flu. There’s also evidence that ginger may reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and blood triglyceride levels. Use fresh ginger for tea, stir fries, and marinades, and sprinkle powdered ginger in smoothies or on plain yogurt.
Cinnamon has been shown to lower blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes and like ginger, can reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In addition, an active component of cinnamon, cinnamaldehyde, may help fight infections. The best variety of cinnamon is labeled Ceylon. Naturally sweet, it’s great on plain yogurt, oatmeal, and fresh fruit, in smoothies and stews, as a meat rub, or as a substitute for sugar in your morning coffee.
Garlic is a savory staple, great in everything from meat marinades to salad dressings. Used throughout history for its medicinal benefits, researchers have linked garlic intake with keeping blood vessels flexible, especially in women, which may help prevent heart attacks and strokes. In addition, several studies suggest that eating garlic may lower cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure.
Cayenne’s active ingredient that makes it magical is capsaicin (which is present in many other hot peppers, too). A powerful antioxidant, cayenne has been used in food and as medicine for thousands of years. According to research, this spice can help digestion, ease migraines, prevent blood clots, boost immunity, regulate metabolism, and even treat skin conditions like psoriasis. One study out of UCLA’s School of Medicine found capsaicin capable of inhibiting cancer cells. Add some cayenne to dishes instead of black pepper—a little goes a long way.