10 Spices with Benefits

by Amy Hendel, P.A. Health Writer

Spices: A healthy swap

If you're looking to limit sugar and sodium for better health and weight loss, then you need a good swap out and spices are the answer! Spices support health because of their essential oils (think aromatherapy), soothing properties (thyme gargle for sore throat), and minerals like potassium, manganese, iron, and magnesium.

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Spices hail from the plant kingdom

Spices can be categorized according to the plant part they come from. Bay leaf, rosemary, and thyme come from the leaves of aromatic plants. Fennel, nutmeg, coriander, and fenugreek come from the fruits and seeds of certain plants. Garlic, turmeric, and ginger come from the roots and bulbs of plants. Cinnamon comes from the bark of a plant.

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Bay leaf

Bay leaf can be used fresh or dried in recipes-one bay leaf enhances slow-cooked stews. The spice offers antiseptic, antioxidant, and digestive-support benefits, and has astringent, diuretic, and appetite-stimulating potential. It has vitamins A and C, folic acid, potassium, B-complex, copper, calcium, manganese, iron, selenium, and magnesium.

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Allspice (Jamaican pepper)

Perfect if making meat, chicken, or fish rubs, or to flavor soups, barbecue sauces and when pickling. This anti-inflammatory spice is a good source of minerals like potassium, manganese, iron, copper, selenium, and magnesium, plus vitamin A, vitamin B-6, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin C. Avoid if you have stomach ulcers or ulcerative colitis.

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Nutmeg (Mace spice)

If you bake or make butternut squash soup, you know this spice! It has antioxidant, disease-preventing and health-promoting properties. The spice is a good source of copper, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, zinc, and magnesium. Rich in B vitamins, beta-carotene and cryptoxanthin, it is also used to relieve gastro-intestinal distress.

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Vanilla bean

This spice lets you cut sugar in baked goods and sweet drinks. Ancient Mayans called it an aphrodisiac. The extract contains small amounts of niacin, pantothenic acid, thiamin, riboflavin, and vitamin B-6. It also contains trace amounts of calcium, magnesium, manganese, iron, and zinc. Use vanilla extract rather than cheaper vanillin.

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Popular in Chinese medicine, cinnamon can swap for sugar in recipes. Its antioxidant activity is highest among all food sources in nature. It enhances glucose sensitivity – perfect for individuals with diabetes. It also enhances digestion and is a good source of potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, zinc, magnesium, vitamin A and niacin.

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Cumin seeds

These robust-flavored, aromatic seeds contain numerous phytochemicals with antioxidant and anti-gas properties. They’re a great source of fiber. Cumin seeds are excellent sources of iron, copper, potassium, manganese, selenium, zinc, and magnesium, as well as B-complex vitamins and vitamins E, A, and C. Use to season potato fries and vegetables.

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This ingredient has quite the potent flavor. Root wasabi use dating from ancient times was considered antibacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory. Like horseradish, it stimulates salivary, intestinal, and gastric digestive enzymes. An excellent source of vitamin C, it also offers folate, niacin, calcium, and potassium.

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An important ingredient in mulled cider, the active compounds in cloves offer antioxidant, antiseptic, anesthetic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-gas benefits. It may help improve digestion by increasing gastro-intestinal enzyme secretions. A good source of carotene, vitamins A, K, B6, and C, it also has iron, selenium, potassium, and magnesium.

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Cocoa beans

This spice is often processed into cocoa powder and cocoa butter. The powder has phytochemicals and the stimulant/mood-booster, caffeine. Cocoa is credited with antioxidant activity and studies suggest it may work against inflammation, aging, and viral infections. It has B vitamins, iron, selenium (cardio-protective), calcium, zinc, and magnesium.

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Cayenne pepper

This hot spice contains capsaicin, which is associated with anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic, analgesic, and antidiabetic properties. It also can help with triglyceride and LDL levels in obese individuals. A rich source of vitamin C and A, it has one of the highest levels of potassium in spices. It also has niacin, riboflavin, copper, and iron.

Amy Hendel, P.A.
Meet Our Writer
Amy Hendel, P.A.

Known as "The HealthGal", Amy Hendel P.A. is a medical and lifestyle reporter, nutrition and fitness expert, health coach and brand ambassador. Trained as a physician assistant, she maintains a health coach private practice in New York and Los Angeles. Author of The Four Habits of Healthy Families, find her on Twitter @Healthgal1103 and on Facebook @TheHealthGal. Check “Daily Health News” at healthgal.com. Her personal mantra? “Fix it first with food, fitness, and lifestyle.”