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WOMAN'S WEEKLY|January 25, 2022
Nutritionist Lyndsey Heffernan reveals the real health benefits of spicing up your food
Lyndsey Heffernan

Аdding more spice to your meals will give your wellbeing a boost, whether you 'slam it to the left' or 'shake it to the right'. Because whichever way you choose to turn up the flavour in the flavour in your meals, the Spice Girls were onto something when they urged us to spice up our lives to 'feel fine'.

Adding just a teaspoon and a half of herbs and spices to your diet a day could lower blood pressure, according to recent research*. And the good news is it's not just heart health it helps, from fresh breath to preventing COVID-19 and fighting depression, spice can do you good. So, it's time to turn up the heat and reap the rewards...

Cardamom

Often called the 'Queen of Spices' because of its pleasant aroma and taste, cardamom has traditionally been associated with good oral hygiene. This is due to the essential oils contained within the seeds, which contain potent antibacterial properties that banish bad breath.

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Chew a cardamom seed for a fresher mouth on the go.

Black pepper

Considered the 'King of Spices', black pepper contains the active ingredient piperine, which studies have linked to reducing tumour growth (especially when combined with turmeric), improving brain function (including alleviating depression) and helping with digestion. It has also been linked to fending off colds and coughs - and early research** shows that having it with ginger may help prevent coronavirus.

TRY THIS

Add freshly ground black pepper to your food, as heating can deplete its potency.

Cumin

Trying to lose a few pounds? A teaspoon of cumin powder could be your secret weapon! During testing at Iran's Shahid Sadoughi University of Medical Sciences, cumin was found to be related to better weight-loss results compared with other control groups. It's also a great plant source of iron - 1 tsp contains 14% of a woman's recommended daily amount, so it could help you feel more energised too.

TRY THIS

Sprinkle 2tsp cumin seeds along with a drizzle of oil on a tray of chopped veg and roast.

Turmeric

With its trademark yellow hue, which contains a substance in it called curcumin, turmeric is credited with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. The spice has been used to treat arthritis, and research suggests that it can also help with exercise-related swelling and soreness.

TRY THIS

Consume with a fat source such as milk, nuts or avocado to improve absorption.

Ginger

If you suffer from regular bloating, ginger may help. It has a carminative effect (it helps reduce gas, the main cause of bloating), as well as pain-relieving compounds (especially when it comes to menstrual pain). It's also a helpful anti-nausea remedy. One study found 1g a day of fresh ginger reduced nausea and vomiting. You'd need at least 1g a day, however, for it to work (sadly, a gingerbread biscuit won't cut it).

TRY THIS

Steep 1tsp grated ginger in boiling water and sip for digestive relief.

Chilli (green and red)

Eating chilli peppers has been linked to living longer, according to the American Heart Association - and a significantly reduced risk of death from heart disease and cancer. Researchers credit this to capsaicin – the compound that gives chillies their kick - which is most concentrated in the white pith of the pepper wall.

TRY THIS

Have a glass of milk on standby it's more effective than water at cooling the burn of capsaicin.

Cinnamon

This spice, sometimes made into a tea to ease digestive discomfort, may improve gut health. Various spices were pitted against each other during one study, and cinnamon scored best for increasing good bacteria in the gut and inhibiting the bad stuff. Cinnamon is also a powerful antioxidant, reducing the risk of inflammation and fighting off disease-causing free radicals, as well as helping with blood glucose control in patients with type 2 diabetes.

TRY THIS

Sprinkle onto your morning porridge for a tasty way to kick-start the day.

Nutmeg

This warming spice is an adaptogen – it stimulates or sedates, depending on your body's needs. It has traditionally been used as an aphrodisiac, thanks to its stimulative effect on the nerves, and as a sleep inducer in people struggling with insomnia. Be warned, though, too much can cause nausea, palpitations and even hallucinations, so stick to having just a pinch!

TRY THIS

Add a pinch of nutmeg, with 1tsp honey, to warm milk for a calming bedtime drink.

Can spices help make you look younger?

Spices, such as turmeric, ginger and even black pepper, are increasingly popping up in beauty products, as we demand more natural skincare. With their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory properties, it's not hard to see why - after all, inflammation and oxidative stress can accelerate signs of ageing (such as fine lines and sun damage). However, while spices can help, they're not unique in these nutritional superpowers. Mother Nature equipped most plants with these qualities (berries are a great source of antioxidants, while olive oil can reduce inflammation, for example), so aim for a varied diet of natural foods, including spices, to grow old gracefully.

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