More than flavourful: four super spices that benefit your health

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      Former prime minister Jean Chrétien made headlines for quipping, “For me, pepper, I put it on my plate,” in response to the pepper-spraying of protesters outside the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in 1997.

      Indeed, spices such as cinnamon and saffron were used to add flavour to food long before Dutch chartered companies battled the Portuguese empire for control of their trade in the 1600s. For millennia, aromatic bark, buds, roots, and seeds have also been valued for their medicinal properties.

      “Plants produce phytochemicals that protect the plant, and they also can protect our bodies,” Vesanto Melina, a registered dietitian and coauthor of Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition: The Complete Reference on Plant-Based Nutrition, told the Georgia Straight by phone from Langley.

      Here are four super spices that could give your health a boost.


      The seeds of the cumin plant, which is part of the parsley family, are commonly used in Latin American, North African, and South Asian cuisines. They are an excellent source of calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, and other minerals.

      According to WebMD, cumin can be taken for digestion problems, such as bowel spasms and diarrhea. Cumin is also used as an aphrodisiac and diuretic, as well as to induce menstruation.


      To decrease your risk of cancer, the American Institute for Cancer Research recommends eating garlic as part of a well-balanced, mostly plant-based diet. “Garlic and also onion have shown up time after time to be very protective against cancer,” Melina said. According to her, adding garlic to a meal can also increase the body’s absorption of zinc from foods such as chickpeas, grains, and tahini.

      In its Medical Reference Guide, the University of Maryland Medical Center notes that garlic can also be taken to boost the immune system and prevent heart disease and colds. “Antioxidants like those found in garlic fight off free radicals, and may reduce or even help prevent some of the damage they cause over time,” the guide states.


      For thousands of years, ginger has been used for arthritis, colds, hypertension, and migraines, University of Minnesota professors Ann M. Bode and Zigang Dong note in the second edition of Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. Research suggests that ginger lowers cholesterol and improves lipid metabolism and can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

      “It can help people not feel nauseated, if they get sick in travel,” Melina said. “But it’s widely used to help women who are experiencing morning sickness. They can use it in cookies or teas or powder capsules or ginger ale.”


      Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine traditionally used turmeric to treat arthritis. On its website, the Atlanta-based Arthritis Foundation notes that a 2006 study showed turmeric can prevent joint inflammation.

      In Herbal Medicine, University of Texas researchers Sahdeo Prasad and Bharat B. Aggarwal note that turmeric can also be used for abdominal pain, chicken pox, conjunctivitis, digestive disorders, liver ailments, and urinary tract infections. “The beneficial effects of turmeric are traditionally achieved through dietary consumption, even at low levels, over long periods of time,” Prasad and Aggarwal write.