When people hear the word “diet” they usually associate that with bland tasteless food, however, that does not have to be the case. If you use the proper spices to add some flavor you enjoy to your healthy meals, you are more likely to actually want to eat them. Aside from boosting flavor, many spices possess antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that may help contribute to heart health, beautiful skin and hair, and help reduce your risk of conditions like osteoporosis, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cataracts, and macular degeneration. Fresh and dried herbs or powders are great ways to add flavor but be weary of seasoning mixtures that add salt to them. Adding, spices like cinnamon and nutmeg are a terrific, calorie-free way to lend sweetness to breakfast foods and baked goods without pouring on the sugar.
Allspice has the flavor of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. It is commonly used in Caribbean and Latin American cooking and is one of the key ingredients in jerk seasoning and mole sauces.
Basil is a fragrant green herb commonly used in Italian cooking. It comes in several varieties, including sweet, Thai, and lemon. When cooking with fresh basil, it’s best to add it at the end of cooking so it doesn’t lose its color and flavor. Like other herbs, basil adds flavor to food without adding sodium, calories, and fat.
Bay leaves are an herb that can be found fresh or dried and are most often used in cooking to flavor soups, stews, and other slow-cooking dishes. Dried bay leaves are most commonly used whole and have a longer shelf life and more developed flavor than fresh ones. However, be sure to remove the leaves before serving — the whole dried leaves are not meant to be eaten. Like other herbs, bay leaves add a lot of flavor without the addition of salt.
Black pepper should be a staple in your spice rack. You may think of pepper as salt’s other half, but pepper can stand alone, especially if you have or are at risk for high blood pressure and need to limit your sodium intake. To get the best flavor, freshly grind peppercorns right before using, since pepper begins to lose its pungent taste and aroma once it is ground.
Chili peppers spicy kick comes from capsaicin. Even though it may feel as though the spice is setting your mouth on fire, capsaicin actually helps ease pain. What’s more, the spice may help you slide into your skinny jeans. A Purdue University study found that eating red peppers can help suppress appetite and burn more calories after a meal, especially in those who don’t eat the spice often. Other research shows that capsaicin can actually help suppress body fat because the spice alters key proteins found in fat, triggering them to break down fat.
Cardamom is a spice with a strong fragrance and taste that is commonly used in Indian cooking. You can buy cardamom in pods, crushed, or ground — but, heads-up, it’s a little on the expensive side. Like other spices, cardamom is a great way to flavor food without adding sodium, calories, or fat.
Chili powder is typically a mixture of spices, often including chili pepper, cumin, oregano, and garlic. The heat level can range from mild to hot depending upon what types of peppers are used. Some brands of chili powder also contain salt, so read labels carefully if you have type 2 diabetes.
Cinnamon is a sweet spice, which contains iron, calcium, manganese and even fiber, is loaded with health benefits. A dash of cinnamon may actually help curb your sweet tooth and satisfy cravings. When added to tea or fruit, it can eliminate the need for supplemental sweeteners.
Coriander is the seed of the cilantro plant, although it has a very different flavor than cilantro. It is sold whole and ground and commonly used in curries, meat and seafood dishes, and stews. Like other spices, coriander adds flavor to food without adding sodium, calories, or fat.
Cumin, a spice that can be found as whole seeds or ground, is popular in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking. Like other spices, cumin adds a lot of flavor to recipes without adding sodium, calories, and fat. This Mediterranean spice is a good source of iron and like cinnamon, animal studies have shown it may help lower blood glucose levels. Cumin also has antibacterial properties. Studies have found that the spice is effective at killing Helicobacter pylori, a bacteria linked with stomach ulcers. Black cumin (nigella sativa) can help reduce inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis as well.
Dill is an herb with fernlike leaves that is used to add flavor to many foods, including soups, dips, and, of course, pickles. Fresh dill has a much more intense flavor than its dried counterpart.
Garlic Powder While it doesn’t have the exact same flavor as garlic, garlic powder comes from dehydrated garlic cloves and lasts longer than fresh garlic. It also goes a long way in cooking (1/8 teaspoon of garlic powder is equivalent to one clove of fresh garlic). Like other spices, garlic powder is a good substitute for salt when adding flavor to food just make sure not to confuse it with garlic salt, which is high in sodium and can increase the risk of high blood pressure.
Ginger is a spice that has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body, which can help prevent and manage arthritis. Some studies have also shown ginger to be an effective solution for nausea. Ginger can be found fresh in the produce section and ground, and it is commonly used in Asian cooking and baked goods. Ground ginger has a very different flavor than fresh ginger and is typically not a good substitute for fresh in recipes. The spice is well known for its myriad health benefits, including anti-tussive properties, means they bring relief for cough and congestion from a cold or the flu. Research published in the Journal of Pain shows that consuming two grams of ginger supplements daily eased exercise-induced muscle pain by 25 percent over an 11 day period so this may be a good way to ease muscle soreness.
Hot Red Pepper Flakes
Red pepper flakes, also known as crushed red pepper, are a spice made from hot dried red peppers. They are commonly found on tables in pizza parlors and like other spices, red pepper flakes add flavor to food without adding sodium, calories, and fatSome people with IBS are sensitive to spicy foods and experience discomfort after eating them, so be careful when using hot red pepper flakes.
Mint is an herb that comes in many varieties (e.g., peppermint, spearmint) and is best used in fresh form. Mint leaves are often added to beverages, lamb dishes, and Middle Eastern dishes and used as garnish for desserts. Adding crushed fresh mint leaves to unsweetened iced tea or water is a great way to create a delicious, refreshing drink with no added calories or sugar. Some people also find mint to be soothing to the stomach.
Nutmeg is a spice that is often used as an ingredient in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine, as well as baked goods and desserts. When used to season healthy recipes, nutmeg is a great way to add flavor without adding sodium, calories, or fat.
Onion powder is a spice made from ground dehydrated onions. It isn’t as pungent or sharp as fresh onions, but it’s a great way to add flavor without adding salt and is a big time-saver in the kitchen. Just make sure not to confuse onion powder with onion salt, which is high in sodium and can increase the risk of high blood pressure.
Oregano is an herb often used in Mediterranean and Latin American cooking and can be found fresh and dried. Dried oregano tends to be more pungent than fresh because it is more concentrated. Like other herbs, oregano adds flavor to food without adding sodium, calories, and fat. A staple of Italian dishes, oregano is loaded with antioxidants and can also help fend off bacteria and is an effective barrier against E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria. Oregano oil was found to be the most effective antimicrobialaccording to a study in the Journal of Food Science, published by the Institute of Food Technologist.
Paprika is a spice made from dried and ground red peppers. It can range from sweet and mild to spicy and hot, and is used in cooking to add flavor and color to dishes. Like other spices, paprika adds flavor to food without adding sodium, calories, and fat. Some people with IBS are sensitive to spicy foods and experience discomfort after eating them, so be careful how much and what type of paprika you use.
Parsley is a common green leafy culinary herb. There are two types of parsley, flat leaf, which is typically used for cooking, and curly leaf, which is most often used for garnish. Like other herbs, it is great to use parsley to add flavor to recipes without adding sodium, calories, and fat.
Rosemary is a fragrant herb with needle-like leaves, commonly used in Mediterranean cooking. It can be found fresh and dried, and like other herbs, it is a great way to add flavor to your food without adding sodium, calories, and fat. A 2010 study found that certain spices, especially rosemary, helped reduce carcinogenic compounds that are produced when ground beef patties are cooked. Rosemary has also shown significant antifungal and antibacterial activity and has been studied specifically for its ability to interfere with yeast infection growth.
Sage is an herb with a soft, fuzzy grayish-green leaf and a sweet, yet savory flavor. Fresh or dried sage is great in tomato sauce, soups and stews, and paired with chicken, pork, and fish. Like other herbs, sage adds flavor to food without adding sodium, calories, and fat.
Salt is a seasoning that increases blood pressure in people who are salt sensitive. Although sodium (which is 40 percent of salt) is necessary for the body to function, too much draws excess fluid into the blood, which raises blood pressure and increases bloating and water retention (worsening PMS symptoms). Most adults are advised to limit their sodium intake to less than 1,500 mg per day. Note that some types of salt, such as kosher salt, have coarser grains than table salt, which means that a teaspoon of the coarser salt will contain less sodium than a teaspoon of fine table salt.
If you have high blood pressure and need to be on a sodium-controlled diet, salt substitutes can be a great tool to help you adjust to a low-salt lifestyle. Some salt substitutes use potassium chloride (instead of sodium chloride found in regular salt), which tastes similar to table salt but should not be used if you have kidney problems or are taking certain medications. It is always best to check with your doctor before using these types of salt substitutes.
Thyme is a fragrant herb with very small, delicate leaves and a lemony flavor. It is great in egg, bean, chicken, and vegetable dishes as well as stews and soups, and it can be found fresh and dried. This herb is part of the mint family and can help suppress inflammation, according to a study in the Journal of Lipid Research. Researchers looked at the essential oils of thyme, clove, rose, eucalyptus, fennel and bergamot and found that they reduced COX-2 expression in cells by at least 25 percent. But the real star was thyme oil, which lowered COX-2 levels by nearly 75 percent. Thyme oil also has powerful antimicrobial properties. Researchers who looked at the antimicrobial activity of eight plant essential oils found that thyme oil was the most effective and it almost completely eradicated bacteria within 60 minutes and another study showed that thyme oil was able to inhibit antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
Turmeric, sometimes called curcumin, is a mustard-yellow spice from Asia with anti-inflammatory properties that may help prevent and treat arthritis and protect against memory loss. Turmeric is also used as a natural dye, so use caution when handling it since it can discolor clothes, hands, and surfaces. Turmeric is a staple in curry powder and often used when preparing curry. It may also help fight cancer. A new study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry found that curcumin, the potent antioxidant in turmeric,improves the effectiveness of chemotherapy in breast cancer patients and has potential to be developed into an adjuvant chemotherapy drug. Another study published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research found that turmeric supplements suppress a cell signaling pathway that fuels the growth of head and neck cancer.
Yellow Curry Powder
The main ingredient in yellow curry powder is turmeric, a spice with anti-inflammatory properties that may help prevent arthritis and protect against memory loss. In addition to being a main ingredient in curry sauces, yellow curry powder also adds interesting flavor to chicken and egg dishes.