When it comes to “super-foods,” fruits and veggies aren’t the only heavy hitters. A handful of popular spices also have gained a rightful place on this list because of their own research–supported therapeutic effects.
What you may not realize: Those same spices have even more benefits—little-known but powerful—that are also backed by scientific evidence. How to use these spices for even greater preventive and curative effect…
A small daily dose of cinnamon has been proven in many studies to lower and help regulate blood sugar—crucial for those trying to prevent or manage type 2 diabetes.
Little-known benefit: Cinnamon also can lower high blood pressure.
Scientific evidence: In a recent study published in Lipids in Health and Disease, people who ingested 3 g (about two-thirds of a teaspoon) of cinnamon daily had a significant drop in blood pressure after four months—from averages of 136/88 to 122/80.
How to get more: Because cinnamon is so tasty, it’s easy to include more in your diet. As a heavy cinnamon user, I buy organic Ceylon cinnamon (the highest quality) by the pound. Note: Supermarket cinnamon is usually cassia (or Vietnamese), which contains a compound called coumarin that may damage the liver at high doses in susceptible individuals.
Cinnamon is great on roasted sweet potatoes and squash and adds delightful sweetness to pancakes and waffles. Plus, because it’s such a powerful antioxidant, a sprinkle of cinnamon stops apple slices from turning brown—making the treat more delicious and more appetizing.
This potent spice—a rich source of many healing compounds—is proven to lower cholesterol, reducing your risk for heart disease.
Little-known benefit: Eating garlic regularly also may help reduce your risk for colorectal cancer.
Scientific evidence: When Italian researchers analyzed seven case-control studies on garlic consumption and colorectal cancer, they found that people who ate the most garlic reduced their risk for the disease by 37% compared with people who ate the least. These studies measured garlic intake in various ways, so there is no optimal intake. To be fair, there is also research showing no correlation between garlic and colorectal cancer risk, but even the potential benefit makes garlic a smart addition to one’s diet.
How to get more: Lightly sautéed fresh cloves are likely the healthiest way to consume garlic, but you also can use garlic flakes or powder. I use garlic (usually combined with lemon) in nearly every cooking liquid, sauce and marinade that I make in my kitchen.
Dozens of studies have proven ginger’s usefulness in easing nausea and vomiting due to everything from chemotherapy to motion sickness to morning sickness.
Little-known benefit: Ginger also inhibits the COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes that play a role in the production of inflammation-causing compounds in the body. This means it works the same way as pain-relieving drugs such as ibuprofen (Motrin) and aspirin.
Scientific evidence: A study published in Phytotherapy Research found that ginger supplements are comparable to aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen (Aleve) and other over-the-counter painkillers in easing muscle pain caused by exercise and other types of strenuous activity.
Research also has shown that ginger is just as effective as the migraine drug sumatriptan (Imitrex).
How to get more: For a therapeutic, pain-relieving dose of ginger, take a 1,000-mg supplement, twice daily. For migraine, I recommend up to 1,000 mg at the onset of a migraine. If you want to use ginger to help prevent migraine, add fresh ginger to your daily diet or take a ginger supplement (250 mg to 500 mg daily).*
In the kitchen, add fresh ginger—finely diced or crushed—to sauces and marinades. Used three or more times a week, ginger in doses commonly consumed in the diet can have a mild pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effect. Ginger is also great in smoothies.
Cayenne is a powder made from dried, red chili peppers, and it’s very hot when used to spice food. But the natural intensity of cayenne and its active ingredient capsaicin affect more than your taste buds.
It’s the only natural compound that—when applied topically—can degrade substance P, a neurotransmitter that tells the brain to transmit pain signals. With less substance P, there’s less pain—which is why capsaicin is a common ingredient in many creams, ointments and salves for pain problems such as arthritis, nerve pain, foot pain and back pain.
Little-known benefit: Cayenne can also help you lose weight. Capsaicin and other compounds in cayenne work because they have several effects that help you shed pounds—they suppress appetite…increase calorie-burning (“basal metabolic rate”)…and burn up (“oxidize”) body fat.
In a recent meta-analysis of nine studies on capsaicin and weight loss, published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, researchers concluded that the spice “could be a new therapeutic approach in obesity.”
How to get more: For patients who want to lose weight, I usually recommend adding cayenne to the diet or using low-dose (2 mg) capsaicin supplements daily. (High-dose supplements can irritate the gastrointestinal tract.)
As a weight-loss aid, I recommend drinking one or more cups a day of warm water with a pinch of cayenne, juice from half a lemon, a teaspoon of honey and ground ginger (using a chunk of fresh ginger the size of half your thumb, from knuckle to tip). Cayenne is also excellent in marinades for fish and poultry and sprinkled on eggs. Plus, it adds a kick to salad dressings.
*If you take blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin) or if you have gallstone disease, talk to your doctor before using ginger supplements.