Spice It Up
Not too long ago cayenne pepper was all the rage as part of a ‘miracle’ weight loss diet. It seemed almost too good to be true - just a pinch of some magic powder and suddenly you become a fat-burning machine. Well maybe not a quite a machine, but spicy cayenne pepper has been shown to increase or rev up the metabolism.
The anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric and curcumin have been well documented and may have given Advil a run for its money. Cinnamon has long been coveted by those with metabolic disorders as well as those seeking some aphrodisiac effects thanks to its blood sugar-lowering and hormone supporting qualities.
The rest of your spice should not be overlooked or neglected — there are some superfood seasonings hidden in your pantry that are worthy of a dollop of your attention. Experiment, use more than just salt and start cooking with a few (or more) of these spices. Your blood pressure, waistline, and taste buds will thank you.
You are probably unaware of how important the flavor of bay leaves are to your grandmothers delicious, healing chicken soup, your favorite Italian meat sauce or classic, slow cooked beans until you accidentally forget to throw one into the cooking pot. When you do overlook these dried leaves, it always tastes like something is missing. Although the pungent, almost bittersweet flavor of bay leaves is often far from appetizing on its own, when added into dishes and left to simmer, they impart a little extra depth and dimension. These leaves from the laurel plant also bring some pharmacological properties to the table.
Fresh or dried, bay leaves support the proper functioning of your digestive system by acting as a diuretic and removing toxins. They also contain a multitude of the B-vitamins provide support the nervous system in increasing energy and metabolic rate.
No eye rolling please!!! I am quite aware that you probably already know about this spice, but before you ignore this paragraph and move on to the next, reconsider black pepper for its fat-burning powers. Now I know I have your attention! That freshly ground black pepper you so often decline at restaurants can actually help your body break down fat cells. Pepper also raises core body temperature, forcing the body to eliminate toxins through creating a gentle sweat.
The flavor of cloves is particularly popular in some of your most beloved holiday foods including gingerbread, hot toddies, and pumpkin pie. Cloves are a warming and aromatic addition to any dish. Along with their lovely flavor, cloves impart another interesting element known as eugenol to dishes. This compound, found specifically in clove oil, is incredibly effective at protecting the body from external environmental toxins such as like carbon tetrachloride. Furthermore, eugenol is a potent natural pesticide, so mixing a little clove oil into your lotion can ward off annoying mosquitos and bugs.
Cloves are also a natural deodorizer and sucking on one after a meal will leave you with fresh smelling breath instantly.
Fennel is often either loved or hated with its distinctive anise taste and flavor. This classic Italian seasoning is worth your adoration and packed with phytonutrients. Fennel has been shown to exhibit both anticancer and anti-inflammatory effects. Anethole, a phytonutrient found in fennel has been directly linked to slowing the growth of cancer cells and apoptosis, or cell death, in breast cancer cells. Additionally, the antioxidants found in fennel can help reverse damage to liver cells. After an evening (or day) of over-indulging, you could look to this spice to help heal your hangover.
Nutmeg is often relegated to the spicing up of holiday treats (eggnog anyone?). There are, however, many solid reasons to add a little nutmeg to your cooking repertoire all year round.
Nutmeg has long been used as a home remedy for insomnia and, as with many colloquial remedies; there is some truth to that. Nutmeg is rich in magnesium which has been proven to help those who suffer through restless nights fall asleep and relax far more rapidly and easily than normally.
The powerful antioxidants myristicin and elemicin found in nutmeg fight inflammation and pain, and some researchers believe actually slow down the deterioration of neural pathways in the brain. Maintaining memory and slowing down aging are good motivators for adding a pinch nutmeg to your morning cup of coffee.
Mace, the shell of the nutmeg, has a slightly milder flavor and many of the same properties as its kernel.
Oregano is a wonderful herb, both to use in your cooking and to use therapeutically as needed. One active agent in oregano is rosmarinic acid, which is a strong antioxidant that may support immune system health. Oregano has anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and anti-fungal effects, and may kill MRSA, listeria, and other pathogens. The essential oils found in the oregano plant may be useful for respiratory ailments like colds and flu
Adding oregano to meat before cooking may help reduce the amount of toxic compounds created by the cooking process making it more than just a pizza herb or an addition to your Mediterranean cuisine.
Paprika comes in a vast array of different flavors and varieties from sweet to spicy or smokey. It is home to a plenitude of antioxidants that impart its quintessential brick red color. Paprika is rich in vitamins A and E. Vitamin A also promotes cell growth and recovery, which supports anti-aging and together these vitamins fight free-radical growth.
Whether fresh or dried, thyme deserves a permanent place in your pantry, especially during the fall and winter months. This woody and aromatic herb has been used for centuries in aromatherapy to treat illness, and has proven over time to be a powerful antimicrobial treatment. Consumption of thyme has been shown to encourage a healthy immune system by increasing white blood cell formation. Next time you feel the beginnings of a cold or infection, add some thyme to almost any savory dish to reap the immune-boosting benefits of this herb.