4 Incredibly Powerful Spices that Can Help Boost Your Health and Prevent Disease

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Spices have been used for centuries the world over for their pharmaceutical attributes to cure illnesses and prevent diseases.  So it is not a surprise to find out that many spices are full of powerful antioxidants and phytonutrients that can help keep us healthy in today’s fast-paced world.

Four spices that have been grabbing the attention of researchers and stood out above the rest, are: cinnamon, garlic, turmeric, and rosemary. Let met introduce you to each one personally and tell you what each one can do for your health and how you can add it to your daily diet.


Who doesn’t love the smell of cinnabons freshly baked from the oven? This aromatic spice is not only used for its scent but for its incredible healing properties. Cinnamon is anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-clotting. The active ingredient in cinnamon is cinnamaldehyde, which works wonders to keep your blood platelet membranes from sticking together and creating dangerous clots. Suffer from yeast infections? Cinnamon has been shown to stop fungal and yeast growth, as well as prevent H. pylori infection that causes stomach ulcers. Polyphenolic polymers are compounds found in cinnamon that also help control blood glucose, which makes it an ideal supplement for diabetics. And if that’s not enough cinnamon can also help reduce LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol in the blood), and keep you safe from heart disease.

How to use: Avoid taking cinnamon supplements as too much can be harmful. Do not exceed 1 tsp per day. Add it to your smoothies, juices, coffee or tea, oatmeal, cereal, cottage cheese and yogurt; or sprinkle on sliced fruit like bananas, oranges, berries, and apples. Be adventurous with your grain dishes and mix it in with brown rice, quinoa, and barley.


Smelly as it is, garlic is an extremely powerful medicinal herb. It is rich in allicin and other sulfur compounds, which are responsible for its strong smell and taste. These compounds work as natural antibiotics and can help maintain the immune system, as well as cure viruses including the common cold.  Eat some raw garlic as soon as you feel a cold coming on.  Garlic has also been shown to decrease cholesterol and help protect you from cardiovascular disease.  But one of the most amazing properties of garlic is its cancer preventative ability.  Cancer researchers have been experimenting with garlic’s ability to combat several types of cancer including skin, stomach, colon, liver and lung. Garlic, especially the organic type, is high in the antioxidant Selenium, which also helps prevent cancer.

How to use: Eating 1-2 cloves of raw garlic a day will give you many of the health benefits described above. But if you’re not a fan of its pungent taste/smell, cooking with it can be highly beneficial too.  Try adding garlic whenever you grill or broil meats at high temperatures. This will help to block some carcinogens produced in meat, and will protect your healthy cells.  Try adding garlic into any of your cooked vegetable dishes as well.  And if you like pasta, go for the whole-wheat kind, and add some garlic to your tomato sauce.


This lovely bright yellow colored spice is a member of the ginger family, and is a staple in Indian cooking.  The active ingredient in turmeric is Curcumin, and has been used for its anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and immune-supportive functions for centuries in Asia.  Like garlic, turmeric can be helpful at preventing tumors and cancers. Some research studies have even shown a positive effect of curcumin on Alzheimer’s disease.

How to use: To keep it simple, use store-bought turmeric powder and sprinkle it on every day dishes like eggs, lentils, salads, cauliflower, and even meats. Not only will it give your food an exotic flavor, it will also add a lovely color to everything you put it on.  If you are feeling adventurous and like Indian food, go ahead and use as much turmeric as you like in your cooking!


Rosemary is another wonderfully healing herb that you should consider incorporating into your diet.  It has been proven to be anti-tumorigenic in studies using rosemary leaves extracts.  And other studies show that it stimulates the central nervous system and respiratory system when inhaled or taken orally.  That’s why it has been used in many cultures as a cure for asthma and other respiratory illnesses.  Rosemary also has hepaprotective qualities (protection of the liver) and as you may know, liver is the most active organ in our bodies.

How to use:  If you have a nasty cold and cough that you just can’t get rid of, try brewing a pot of tea with rosemary and breathing in the steam, then drinking the tea.  When cooking almost anything, from meats to beans to vegetables, sprinkle some rosemary in and enjoy!

Honorable mention: Chili

The most commonly used spice in Thai food cannot go unnoticed for its health benefits. Although it hasn’t been proven to prevent cancer or other diseases, chili and chili powder have many vitamins, minerals and flavonoids essential to our bodies. Chili has great antioxidant properties and has been used as home remedies for pain relief, nausea, and psoriasis.  One word of caution is that eating a lot of chili can irritate the stomach and the mucous membrane, so if you experience any gastrointestinal discomfort, perhaps it’s time to order your Tom Yum soup without the chili.


Originally published in Bitter/Sweet Magazine issue 22 volume July 2013. (Click to read online magazine)

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