What are the biggest health benefits of spices? And if there are benefits in spices, what is the healthiest spice in the world?
Researchers, healthcare experts, and people who care about their overall wellness have been asking these questions for years.
Besides being a flavorful addition to your meals, spices have been used in drinks, vitamins and supplements, and even beauty products for generations. Some of these promise to help with weight loss, while others claim to prevent serious health conditions.
But are these health benefits anecdotal or really backed by science?
Stick with us as we explore the importance of herbs and spices in this guide.
The Health Benefits of Spices In Food, Drinks, and More
As it turns out, some of the health benefits of spicy food may be rooted in fact just as much as flavor. And you can thank the plant compounds, active ingredients, and essential oils found in these spices for these benefits.
See, spices are typically just dried herbs. Some later get powdered, crushed, or ground while others remain somewhat intact. But because all spices start as herbs, many contain powerful antioxidants, which are bioactive compounds found in plants that do your body good (1).
Science shows the antioxidant properties found in herbs, fruits, and veggies help your body fight free radicals and reduce oxidative stress. A buildup of free radicals not only makes you age faster, but also increases your risk factors for developing health conditions like high blood pressure, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and more (1).
Research shows spices can help your body form a protective layer that may help it defend against developing these conditions, making them an incredible dietary health tool to add to your routine (2).
So let’s talk about the healthiest spices to begin with.
The Healthiest Spices for Better Living
Whether you find them in a spice mix or add them to your favorite dishes individually, these are the healthiest spices to keep on your radar:
The ginger root is an incredibly healthy food, which is why it’s found in everything from Chinese and Indian spices to candy, self-care products, and ginger tea. According to research, ginger has:
Anti-inflammatory properties. Scientists say ginger may help the body respond to chronic inflammation that leads to pain. The gingerol found in ginger may help with muscle pain, soreness, and cramps, making it a great post-workout recovery aid (9)(10). Another body of research highlighted that ginger might be helpful for managing menstrual discomfort (11).
For rheumatoid arthritis sufferers dealing with knee pain, one study showed that ginger provided modest pain relief comparable to taking an OTC pain reliever (12). More research is needed to learn whether it helps with joint pain too.
Healthy digestion perks. Ginger may be used to relieve stomach upsets, indigestion, bloating, and heartburn. Scientists say ginger can reduce nausea during pregnancy too. And it can support healthy digestion by stimulating your intestinal muscles (7).
Healthy blood sugar benefits. In one randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of people with type 2 diabetes, researchers learned that daily consumption of ginger over eight weeks supported lowered fasting glucose levels and HbA1c (i.e., your blood sugar levels measured over a three-month period (4).
Cinnamon is one of the tastiest spices if you don’t like spicy foods. And it makes an excellent alternative to sweeten your food without sugar if you have healthy eating goals.
Cinnamon also helps support healthy blood glucose and cholesterol levels (3). What’s more, cinnamon may be especially helpful for supporting glycemic control in type 2 diabetics. Scientists say cinnamon actually helps remove excess insulin from the body (3).
Turmeric, the trendy and highly-revered Golden Spice of India, is best known for its bright yellow color. But research shows the health benefits of turmeric spice are so numerous that many experts consider it a superfood.
Besides its use in Ayurvedic medicine, animal studies, randomized controlled trials, and systematic reviews continue to spotlight the amazing effects of the curcumin and curcuminoids found in turmeric. So far, the effects of turmeric may:
Support digestive health. Turmeric helps promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. It also assists in building a healthy gut barrier layer to prevent food molecules from entering the bloodstream (8). This might prove to be a major health benefit for people suffering from inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis, and more.
Support the body’s inflammation response. Since turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties, it has been shown to help fight free radicals that can cause pain and inflammation. In one clinical trial, 139 people with knee osteoarthritis noticed a 50% improvement in arthritic pain when taking curcumin supplements. They also dealt with fewer side effects compared to their alternative medicines (13).
Garlic is one of the most flavorful and popular spices across Mediterranean cooking, Asian recipes, and more. Studies show the health benefits of garlic include:
Support for heart health. Scientists discovered that eating one-half to a whole garlic clove a day may help lower cholesterol by up to 9% (6). Researchers have also seen evidence that garlic might help lower blood pressure. Taking steps to lower high cholesterol and high blood pressure may reduce the risk of heart disease and heart attacks (17).
Antimicrobial properties. Researchers learned that garlic extract killed 93% of the most common bacteria strains, such as Staphylococcus and Salmonella typhi, in three hours and other strains within one hour of incubation (14). While more research is needed to confirm this, these early findings suggest spices like garlic could help your immune system’s antimicrobial department.
Some other spices that contain antimicrobial, antibacterial, and anti-fungal properties include oregano, thyme, and cumin (16).
Cumin is most often ground and found in spice mixes from the Middle East and in curry powder (along with coriander, turmeric, cardamom, and fenugreek).
Scientists say this spice in the parsley family may support healthy cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL levels while increasing HDL levels (i.e., the good cholesterol) (15). Researchers from that study also found that cumin supported weight loss and a reduction in waist circumference, BMI, and fat mass in overweight and obese women.
So, Can Everyday Spices Make You Healthier Too?
What if you don’t have all those spices just mentioned in your spice rack? Can you still capture the health benefits of spices without them? You may be in luck if you have:
Almost everyone has black pepper on hand. And the good news is that besides adding quick flavoring to your food, the piperine in black pepper may help boost the activity of your digestive enzymes and enhance nutrient bioavailability.
This can help support better digestion and absorption of your food (18).
Red peppers, including cayenne pepper, chili pepper, paprika, and others, are widely discussed thanks to the compound known as capsaicin. Dietitians love capsaicin because it may boost your metabolism and help control your appetite (19).
But it may also prove beneficial for your heart health. Researchers in one study examined the health records of 22,000 people living in southern Italy. They concluded that those who ate chili peppers roughly four times or more per week were less likely to die from heart disease (5).
What is The Healthiest Spice In the World?
It turns out, there isn’t one particular spice that deserves the healthiest spice award, but as you can see, many of them are bursting with incredible health benefits.
If you want to get started using spices in your food and drinks, consider an all-in-one spice mix containing complementary flavors. Then, try to build out your individual spices over time according to the flavors you like and the potential health benefits we highlighted today.
Final Thoughts On the Benefits of Spices In Food and Drinks
Thanks to the anti-inflammatory compounds and antioxidant effects found in natural herbs, spices may be some of the healthiest yet smallest additions you can incorporate into your wellness routine.
Whether cooking with them or drinking them in the form of a pretty golden milk turmeric latte or ginger tea, you may be able to soak up all that the spices of nature have to offer for your health in every tasty bite and sip.
PS: Don’t use this guide as medical advice if you have any health conditions mentioned earlier. Speak to your doctor about adding spices to your diet.