Top 5 Healthy Spices For Cooking (Health Benefits)

By Kevin Onuma

Cooking For Health Benefit

There are top healthy spices every cook should have in the kitchen – especially if cooking a meal with healing powers and health benefits. Here on InformAfrica, we are going to inform the world about the following top five healthy spices perfect for cooking a delicious meal.

Top 5 Healthy Spices For Cooking (Health Benefits)
Top 5 Healthy Spices For Cooking (Health Benefits)

1. Turmeric {Pronounced: tur-mer-ik}

Turmeric spice health benefits
Curcumin, the powerful compound in turmeric, can significantly slow the growth of skin, lung, breast and prostate cancers.

Turmeric spice should be number one on every cook’s list if cooking for health benefits. Why? Because turmeric has powerful medicinal properties that fights against a deadly disease known to be the leading cause of death worldwide which is Cancer.

Turmeric is a naturally occurring spice widely used in South Asian and Middle Eastern cooking and has long been known to have medicinal properties, attributed to its anti-inflammatory effects. Previous studies have shown it can suppress the growth of certain cancers. In India, women for years have been using turmeric as an anti-aging agent rubbed into their skin, to treat cramps during menstruation and as a poultice on the skin to promote wound healing.

Turmeric is one of the major components in curry spice, and contains other ingredients such as cumin, coriander, garlic, salt, among other cooking spices.

According to a recent study published on Biomechaism, the main medicinal component in the spice turmeric is Curcumin, which is a compound that suppresses a cell signaling pathway that drives the growth of head and neck cancer.

Key points on the benefits of Turmeric
  • Turmeric speeds up wound healing and assists in remodeling of damaged skin.
  • It may aid in fat metabolism and help in weight management.
  • Since Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties; it is a natural treatment for arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Turmeric may prevent and slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease by removing amyloyd plaque buildup in the brain.
  • It reduces the risk of childhood leukemia.
  • It is a natural liver detoxifier.
  • A recent study reports that turmeric may help slow prostate tumor growth.

Recently, I have been suggesting to African cooks in diaspora of the importance of  using turmeric in dishes that requires palm oil or some type of food color. For instance, when cooking the popular African (Nigerian) dish known as jollof rice, turmeric is a perfect spice that would give the dish that golden tantalizing color that almost every Nigerian have grown to love.

Another instance is when cooking the protein rich food on every restaurant’s menu in diaspora – which is Beans porridge. When cooking beans porridge, some tend to put a lot of palm oil in their dish, which is not good for the heart (increases bad LDL cholesterol). However, the palm oil gives beans porridge its desired look (color) and taste that Africans have become accustomed to.

“Use turmeric when cooking to supplement your beans porridge and use less of palm oil (very little to none), which is not good for the heart;” Kevin Onuma from Nigeria told a brother from another mother during an AfricansConnect session held recently in the U.S. “Turmeric is perfect when cooking beans porridge, yam porridge, jollof rice, and any African dish that requires palm oil, and the health benefits could save lives – he concluded.”

2. Coriander {Pronounced: kawr-ee-an-der}

Coriander spice health benefits (Cilantro leaves)
Coriander, also known as cilantro, is stimulant in nature and helps women with proper menstrual cycles and reduces pains during periods.

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum), also commonly known as cilantro, is considered both a spice and herb since its leaves and its seeds are used as a seasoning condiment. Fresh coriander leaves are more commonly known as cilantro and they bear a strong resemblance to Italian flat leaf parsley.  Coriander is native to southwestern Asia west to north Africa.

The seeds of Coriander are good source of health benefits, making it a top item on the list of healing spices. In parts of north of Africa, coriander has traditionally been referred to as an “anti-diabetic” plant. Meanwhile, in parts of India, it has traditionally been used for its anti-inflammatory properties, and cholesterol lowering effects.

Key points on the health benefits of Coriander 
  • Diarrhea: Some of the components of essential oils in coriander such as Borneol and Linalool, helps with digestion, proper functioning of liver and bonding of bowels, and helps to cure diarrhea. In addition, the fresh coriander leaves are excellent appetizers.
  • Mouth Ulcers: Citronelol, a component of essential oils in coriander, is an excellent anti-septic. Additionally, other compounds in coriander have anti-microbial and healing effects which do not let wounds and ulcers in the mouth become worse. They aid with the healing up of ulcers and freshens up the breath.
  • Anemia: Coriander is good in iron content which directly helps the curing of anemia.
  • Digestion: Due to Coriander’s rich aroma because of its essential oils, it helps in proper secretion of enzymes and digestive juices in the stomach, stimulates digestion and peristaltic motion. It is helpful in treating problems like anorexia.
  • Small Pox: The essential oils in coriander are rich in anti-microbial, anti-oxidant, detoxifying components and acids. The presence of vitamin-C and iron in the spice strengthens the immune system. These medicinal properties help prevent and cure small pox.
  • Menstrual Disorders: Coriander is stimulant in nature and helps with proper secretion from the endocrine glands. It also helps proper secretion of the hormones and thereby inducing proper menstrual cycles and reducing pains during periods.
  • Eye Care: Coriander has lots of anti-oxidants, vitamin-A, vitamin-C and minerals like phosphorus in its essential oils which prevents aging of eye, macular degeneration and soothes eyes against stress. In order to improve vision, I recommend cooking with coriander leaves and spices.
  • Coriander is a very good disinfectant and has anti-microbial properties which protects the eyes from contagious diseases like conjunctivitis.
  • Skin Disorders: The disinfectant, detoxifying, anti-septic, anti-fungal and anti-oxidant properties of cumin found in coriander are ideal for curing skin disorders such as eczema, dryness and fungal infections.
  • Food Poisoning: Coriander oil could tackle food poisoning and drug-resistant infections such as E. Coli. (More info here)
  • Control of Blood Sugar, Cholesterol and Free Radical Production: Recent research studies using animal models have confirmed all three of these healing effects. When coriander was added to the diet of diabetic mice, it helped stimulate their secretion of insulin and lowered their blood sugar. When given to rats, coriander reduced the amount of damaged fats (lipid peroxides) in their cell membranes. And when given to rats fed a high-fat, high-cholesterol diet, coriander lowered levels of total and LDL (the “bad” cholesterol), while actually increasing levels of HDL (the “good” cholesterol).

Research also suggests that the volatile oils found in the leaves of the coriander plant, commonly known as cilantro, may have antimicrobial properties.

3. Cinnamon {Pronounced: sin-uh-muhn}

Cinnamon health benefits
Cinnamon has been shown to have positive effects on diabetes, and lowering of bad (LDL) cholesterol.

Cinnamon is a small tree commonly found in South Asia, parts of Africa, and the Middle East region. The cinnamon sold across supermarkets, especially in North America, is the bark of this tree, it is either sold as sticks or grounded into a powder form as spice for cooking known as ground cinnamon. The two most popular types of cinnamon are Ceylon and Cassia, each of which are derived from different trees.

Cinnamon is high in anti-oxidants, and the oil of cinnamon has strong anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. The healthy spice is also a great source of manganese, fiber, iron, and calcium.

Cinnamon contains polyphenols, natural substances that work similar to insulin in the body and may help control blood sugar levels, especially in people at risk for diabetes and heart disease. Studies show people who take 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon twice a day may help lower glucose, cholesterol and triglyceride levels up to 30 percent.

Key points on Cinnamon Health benefits
  • Cinnamon has an anti-clotting effect on the blood.
  • Cinnamon can reduce the proliferation of leukemia and lymphoma cancer cells.
  • Combining Cinnamon and Honey has been found to relieve arthritis pain.
  • When cinnamon is added to food, it inhibits bacterial growth and food spoilage, making it a natural food preservative.
  • Cinnamon has been found to be an effective natural remedy for migraine relief and eliminating headache.
  • One study found that smelling cinnamon boosts cognitive function and memory.
  • Previous studies have found that cinnamon may reduce inflammation, have antioxidant effects, and fight bacteria.
  • In some studies, cinnamon has shown an amazing ability to stop medication-resistant yeast infections.

4. Basil Leaves {Pronounced: baz-uhl or bey-zuhl}

Basil health benefits (Spice with healing powers)
People make tea with basil leaves when they have flu or any kind of digestive distress, and to also calm the nerves.

Basil, sometimes referred to as the king of herbs, is a member of the mint family.

The leaves of basil are typically a broad oval shape and release a distinctive fragrance when rubbed. The leaves are used as a seasoning in both fresh and cooked dishes.

Research studies on basil have shown unique health-protecting effects in two basic areas: basil’s flavonoids and volatile oils.

Basil is high in vitamin A, vitamin C, phosphorus and calcium. It is also a good source of iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. It is thought to help the eyesight, the cardiovascular system, and the hair. It can also be used for skin infections and insect bites.

Over the years, many people make tea with basil leaves when they have flu or any kind of digestive distress. Those suffering from cramps, nausea, indigestion, and constipation also use basil leaves to alleviate the problems. Basil tea can also be used to soothe headaches and calm the nerves, and to lower fever.

Key Health Benefits of Basil Leaves
  • Basil leaves contains many health benefiting essential oils such as eugenol, citronellol, linalool, citral, limonene and terpineol. These compounds are known to have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.
  • Basil leaves contain many notable plant derived chemical compounds that are known to have disease preventing and health promoting properties.
  • Basil herb contains good amount of minerals like potassium, manganese, copper, and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids, which helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
  • Basil herb contains many polyphenolic flavonoids like orientin and vicenin. These compounds were tested in vitro laboratory studies for possible anti-oxidant protection against radiation-induced lipid per-oxidation in mouse liver.
  • The herbs parts are very low in calories and contain no cholesterol, but are very rich source of many essential nutrients, minerals, and vitamins that are essential for optimum health.
  • Basil herb contains exceptionally high levels of beta-carotene, vitamin A, cryptoxanthin, lutein and zea-xanthin. These compounds help act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging and various disease process.
  • Vitamin A is known to have antioxidant properties and is essential for vision. It is also required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin. Consumption of natural foods rich in vitamin-A has been found to help body protect from lung and oral cavity cancers.
  • Vitamin K in basil is essential for many coagulant factors in the blood and plays vital role in the bone strengthening function by helping mineralization process in the bones.
  • Basil leaves are an excellent source of iron. Iron, being a component of hemoglobin inside the red blood cells, determines the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood.

5. Nutmeg {Pronounced: nuht-meg}

Nutmeg health benefits
The nutmeg tree is any of several species of trees in genus Myristica, and has been used in medicine since at least the seventh century. Nutmeg is well valued as an aphrodisiac.

Historically, nutmeg has been used for everything from stomach cramps to a cure for the plague. Studies have shown that it can help lower blood pressure and sooth a stomach ache as well as stop diarrhea and (in low doses) help to detoxify the body. The essential oil of the nutmeg is considered the most effecatious part of the plant.

The essential oil from nutmeg is used in cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries – in toothpaste, and as a major ingredient in some cough syrups. In traditional medicine, nutmeg and nutmeg oil were used for disorders affecting the nervous and digestive systems.

The nutmeg tree is indigenous to the Banda Islands of Indonesia but is also grown in the Caribbean, especially in Grenada.

For the fact that nutmeg can bring back the bedroom spice in marriages by increasing sexual desires between couples, it had to be listed in my top 5 healthy spices great for cooking.

Key Health Benefits of cooking with Nutmeg
  • In Chinese medicine, nutmeg is used to treat impotence and liver disease.
  • Nutmeg contains eugenol, a compound that may benefit the heart.
  • Medically, nutmeg has strong antibacterial properties. It is effective in killing a number of cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth.
  • Myristicin found in nutmeg has been shown to inhibit an enzyme in the brain that contributes to Alzheimer’s disease and is used to improve memory.
  • It is used  to reduce flatulence (excessive stomach or intestinal gas), aid digestion and improve appetite.
  • Besides being used in toothpastes, cough syrups; externally nutmeg oil is mixed with almond oil and is used to relieve rheumatic pain.
  • Nutmeg oil is used to treat toothaches. Drops of essential oil from nutmeg are put on cotton swab and applied to the gums around an aching tooth, sometimes also used to control bad breath.
  • Drops of nutmeg oil can also be mixed with honey to treat nausea, gastroenteritis, chronic diarrhoea and indigestion.
  • In Arab nations, nutmeg is valued as an aphrodisiac (substance believed to increase sexual desire). In parts of Africa, nutmeg is used as a female Viagra. Sex therapists have long recommended cooking with nutmeg to increase sexual desire. It is very good for men.

In conclusion, the top five healthy spices for cooking with numerous health benefits discussed in this article are essential for maintaining a good health and building our immune defense. There are at least over 350 spices in the world, but this article only focus on cooking spices with great healing powers that every knowledgeable cook should have in his or her kitchen cabinet.

Cooking can be fun, but cooking for the health benefit is far greater. I hereby end this health article with this advice: Endeavor to know all the health benefits of each and every spice you cook with, share this helpful article with others, and continue to spice up your life naturally for optimum health!

P.S. All cooking spices are healthy, but many spices are yet to be explored by the majority. Are their any other cooking spices with healing powers not mentioned here that you know of? If so, drop a comment in the box below to let me know.  Thanks!

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Kevin Onuma is Editor-in-Chief at InformAfrica, webmaster at Biomechanism, and social networking promoter from Nigeria contributing to Africa’s online presence. He also works at Nigeria Music Network and Nigeria Movie Network occassionally. He is currently working to re-develop AfricansConnect, a social network that aims to connect Africans both at home and in diaspora – promoting unity.  

2 Responses to "Top 5 Healthy Spices For Cooking (Health Benefits)"

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