The Seven Super Spices


You may adore the warm, distinctive flavor that cinnamon adds to sweet and savory dishes. But there's much more to this fragrant spice than you ever imagined. Did you know that this ancient spice taken from the inner bark of tropical trees is an antioxidant powerhouse?

*Cinnamon has one of the highest antioxidant levels of any spice –  and even more than many foods. You'll find as many antioxidants in 1 teaspoon of cinnamon as a full cup of pomegranate juice or ½ cup of blueberries.

Beyond antioxidants, cinnamon is also rich in natural compounds called polyphenols. These compounds appear to act like insulin in our body and may help regulate blood sugar levels. That's especially good news for people with diabetes.

*Ginger is a tropical spice that has a wonderful pungent, citrus flavor that many of us associate with holiday baking. Derived from the gingerroot, this holiday favorite is special for other reasons too. Did you know it has as many antioxidants as a cup of spinach?

You may be comforted by the soothing smells of ginger-spiked baked goods, yet you may not know that ginger has a long history of other comforting properties. For centuries, ginger was used as a natural remedy for a variety of conditions, especially soothing distressed stomachs. Now modern medicine is attempting to validate the use of ginger to ease indigestion and reduce pain.

The potential benefits appear to be due to the anti-inflammatory properties of gingerol –  one of the active ingredients in ginger. Some studies suggest gingerol may work like certain anti-inflammatory drugs (such as aspirin and ibuprofen) by inhibiting an enzyme that causes inflammation. Research indicates that ginger may offer pain relief for everything from arthritis to nausea and migraines

Of all the dried herbs, *oregano has one of the highest antioxidant levels. Just one teaspoon of dried oregano leaves has as many antioxidants as three ounces of almonds and ½ cup of chopped asparagus.

Rosmarinic acid is the active compound in oregano that appears to have the strong antioxidant activity. Many of the studies on oregano (literally translated, "joy of the mountain") have focused on the antimicrobial properties that help fight the growth of bacteria and parasites. Because of the high antioxidant level of oregano, researchers are continuing to explore the use of oregano in various food applications to inhibit bacterial growth. One lab study examined the antimicrobial effects of oregano on the bacteria associated with ulcers.

Turning up the heat with *chile peppers can help you crank up the antioxidants. Capsaicin is the powerful compound in peppers that gives chiles their heat. The hotter the pepper, the more capsaicin (and antioxidants!) you'll find. Cayenne or ground red pepper contains the most. Yet all red peppers –  including chili powder and the milder paprika –  are surprisingly good sources of antioxidants.

If you're trying to eat less, red pepper might help. Some studies have shown that when people added red pepper to their food they ate fewer calories during that meal –  and even during the next meal. It seems that capsaicin helps increase satiety, or a feeling of fullness.

Beyond helping you control your appetite, initial findings of some studies indicate that spicing up your meal with cayenne, chili powder and paprika can help boost your metabolism. Even milder, sweet red peppers have been found to increase calorie burning.

A cornerstone of Mediterranean cooking, this distinctive, aromatic herb is packed with flavor and antioxidants. *Rosemary not only tastes good -- in everything from marinades to mashed potatoes -- it is now being linked to good health.

A teaspoon of this versatile herb contains about the same amount of antioxidants as a carrot or a ½ cup chopped tomatoes. Thyme also contains a variety of beneficial compounds called flavonoids that increase the herb's antioxidant capacity and may offer anti-inflammatory benefits.

Throughout history, thyme was believed to have certain medicinal properties and was used to help treat chest and respiratory problems. Now researchers believe thymol and other volatile oils in thyme may be responsible for a range of benefits. Some studies suggest the antioxidants in thyme could offer age-related benefits, such as helping to maintain cognitive fun

*Turmeric is a deeply-hued spice found in yellow curry powder that provides much more than color and flavor. It is a concentrated source of antioxidants –  on par with strawberries, raspberries and cherries. Even a teaspoon of curry powder, which is a blend of turmeric and other spices, has as many antioxidants as ½ cup of red grapes.

*Curcumin, the bright yellow compound in turmeric, has been the focus of several studies. Emerging evidence suggests curcumin may help inhibit the growth of cancer cells, reduce inflammation and safeguard our brain. In preliminary studies, curcumin helped thwart the development of destructive brain plaques. As a result, researchers believe yellow curry may offer the potential to protect against Alzheimer's disease
and promote heart health.