Spices are my favorite part of cooking. I love the colors, the aromas and the way they can turn any ingredient into something special. Spices add complexity and depth to any dish and the right blends can take us to all the corners of the world without ever leaving the kitchen. Adding spices to your dishes can do more than just make them taste good, they can also improve your health. It makes sense – spices come from plants and we all know that eating plants is good for us. In fact, most herbs and spices contain more antioxidants than some fruits and vegetables as well as antibacterial and antiviral properties.Using spices in cooking also makes dishes need less salt and that is always a healthy move. So the next time you’re reaching for the salt, reach for some of these spices instead and spice up your health as well as your food.

1. Cayenne Pepper


Cayenne pepper contains capsaicin, a compound that gives cayenne and other peppers their heat. Capsaicin raises the body’s thermostat and increases metabolism to help burn calories and fat while lessening cravings for salty, fatty foods. It is also therapeutic and helps relieve aches, pains and soreness. Read the ingredients in an over-the-counter pain relieving cream and you’ll probably see capsaicin listed. Cayenne has been shown to increase circulation and help lower the risk of heart problems. As if that’s not enough, cayenne also has anti-fungal properties, can help with colds and flu, migraines, digestion and more. To learn more about this spice, see The Ultimate Super Spice! Health Benefits of Cayenne Pepper.

Add cayenne to your dishes to give it a healthy kick. Start small and add more according to your tolerance to spicy foods. This Asian Cucumber Avocado Salad has just a pinch of cayenne in it to make it spicy. Make avocado toast and sprinkle a bit of cayenne on top. Check out 6 Tips for Cooking Spicy Food the Right Way and then try using cayenne in this Crispy Spiced Cauliflower and Okra, Caribbean Black Bean Chili, Spicy Andouille Sausage, and Black Bean Chili Chocolate Brownies.

2. Cinnamon


Cinnamon has some of the highest antioxidant levels of all spices. It also contains good amounts of manganese, iron and calcium. Cinnamon has been shown to reduce inflammation, blood sugar levels and blood triglyceride levels. It can also help nausea and has antibacterial properties. Since cinnamon helps control blood sugar levels, it also helps fight cravings and hunger. Check out Using Cinnamon for Blood Sugar: Does it Work, and is it Safe ? to learn more.

Most of us put cinnamon in our desserts or in our breakfast oatmeal. But cinnamon can also be used in savory dishes as well. It is used in Indian, Caribbean, Spanish, Mexican and Greek cuisine. Use cinnamon in this Toasted Quinoa Mexican Soup, Jerk Tofu, Simple Lentil Dal and Baked Cinnamon-Spiced Sweet Potato Fries With Apple Date Butter Dipping Sauce. Of course, you can also make these delicious Vegan Cinnamon Rolls.

3. Curry Powder


Curry powder is not just one spice but a blend of several spices that may vary depending on the region of origin. It often contains turmeric, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, mustard powder, cayenne, ginger, fenugreek, and cardamom. Curry powder is used in Indian, Thai and Jamaican cuisine. Curry powder can help with inflammation, blood sugar control, and cholesterol levels. It has anti-cancer properties and can help detox the body from heavy metals.

Use curry powder to make warm, fragrant dishes like this Vegetable Coconut Curry in a Hurry, Super Simple Curried Pumpkin Fritters, Sweet Potato Noodles and Coconut Curried Veggies, and Curry Spiced Roasted Cauliflower and Chickpeas. You can also use curry powder in snacks like this Curry Coconut Popcorn.

4. Garlic

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Garlic does a lot more than just keep vampires away. Studies show that garlic may destroy cancer cells and disrupt tumor cells. Garlic can help prevent or lessen the symptoms of colds and flus. It has also been shown to help with hypertension, cholesterol levels, Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia, and bone health. See Garlic: A Real Superfood for more info.

Garlic is savory and often seen in Italian, Greek, Mediterranean, Asian and Mexican cuisine. Enjoy garlic in Gluten-Free Tomato and Garlic FocacciaRoasted Veggies with Buttery Garlic and Spinach Salad, Garlic and Thyme Pan Seared Mushrooms and Roasted Garlic, Miso and Greens Soup.

5. Ginger


Ginger is spicy and warm and the smell reminds us of fresh baked cookies. Ginger is used to treat stomach problems such as nausea, gas and bloating. It helps colds, flu and sore throats. It has been shown to help with arthritis, inflammation and muscle pain. It can even help with motion sickness.

Ginger can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. Try this Ginger Elixir to aid digestion. Enjoy ginger in this Asian Ginger Tofu and Carrot Rice with Bok Choy, Warm Ginger Carrot SoupRaw Gingersnap Cookies and this Walnut Crusted Pear-Ginger Tart.

6. Paprika

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Paprika is one of my favorite spices. Paprika is warm and sweet. It is used in German, Hungarian, Spanish and Mexican cuisine. Paprika contains capsaicin which has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. It contains ample amounts of several beneficial nutrients like vitamin E, iron and carotenoids which includes vitamin A. It can help make our skin and hair healthier. Paprika can help control blood clot formation and promotes healthy blood vessel function. It has antioxidant properties which can help lower the risk of certain cancers.

Add paprika to goulash, chili, stews and tacos. Use paprika in this Vegan GoulashSpicy Italian Vegan Sausages, and Lentil Meatloaf with Smoked Paprika Glaze.

7. Turmeric

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Turmeric is that beautiful yellow spice that gives its color to mustard and our tofu scrambles. It contains curcumin, a cancer-fighting compound. Turmeric is believed to reduce inflammation and improve joint function. It may also help people with Alzheimer’s Disease. Turmeric has anti-bacterial properties and can help heal cuts and wounds. Some say turmeric can help relieve pain as well, if not better, as over-the-counter pain relievers.

Turmeric is earthy and slightly bitter and often seen in Indian and Moroccan cuisines. It’s easy to add turmeric to your dishes to get all its benefits. Try turmeric in these Chile-Garlic Potatoes and Cauliflower with TurmericSpicy Turmeric Twice-Baked PotatoesBuckwheat Turmeric Pancakes and Warm Berry Sauce, Tandoori Tofu, Healing Turmeric Smoothie and Turmeric Tea.

This is just a sample of all the health benefits available to us by using spices in our cooking. For even more tips, check out How Herbs and Spices Can Transform Your Health, Anti-Inflammatory Herbs and Spices for Athletes, and 7 Powerhouse Spices That Can Help Amp Up Your Nutrition. The Ultimate Spice Guide can help you choose which spices work best with which dishes. With all this knowledge about spices, you can make meals that are not only delicious and flavorful but good for you as well.

Lead Image Source: Healing Turmeric Smoothie