We all know plants are good for us. They contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, and unique compounds we call “phytonutrients” (“phyto” means plant). Phytonutrients are chemicals made by the plant and consist of plant pigments (such as beta-carotenes), isoflavones, flavonoids, polyphenols, and other “sciency” sounding words. The names aren’t as important as knowing what they are doing for your body. These phytochemicals are nutrient powerhouses and do amazing things to promote health. Some phytonutrients are known to stave off heart disease, certain cancers, even neurological decline associated with aging. They modulate inflammation in the body, improve muscle recovery, some even have the potential to help you live longer! Their most famous role, or at least the one that gets the most press is their antioxidant capabilities.
Phytonutrients are especially important for mitigating the effects of oxidation in the body. As we live and breathe our bodies create free radicals, it’s just a part of living. A good diet, adequate sleep, stress reduction and, you guessed it, consistent exercise helps your body manage the free radicals you create each day. However, a healthy lifestyle still doesn’t quench every free radical ever produced by your body, and that’s where spices come in. Spices come from plants, so they contain many phytonutrients and are even more concentrated and powerful in some cases than regular old fruits and vegetables themselves! We are often told what to avoid for good health. Well instead, you can get healthy by adding one thing to your meals, spice! Don’t be fooled into thinking that if you hate spicy food, you aren’t going to be able to enjoy cooking with spices. In fact, many nutritious spices are quite mild. Another benefit of spices is the delicious flavor and seasoning they add to your meal that reduces the need for salt, fat, and other flavor enhancers. Think of a full, diverse spice cabinet as an extra delicious medicine cabinet!
Here are a few great spices to be using in your kitchen that are known to be powerful antioxidants. This is not a complete list, but simply a short sampling to spark some interest and motivation to begin cooking with spices. Start experimenting with your own cooking or use some of the suggestions below.
Ginger: Ginger is an amazing root and has many medicinal properties! Ginger is used in treating nausea, excessive inflammation, joint pain, and can even help prevent cancer. The warm and complex flavor lends itself well to sweet (ginger spiced granola, tea) or savory dishes (Asian stir-fries, or curry).
Turmeric: Turmeric is well loved for helping athletes aid in recovery since it is so great at modulating inflammation. This root is also a potent antioxidant and can help your liver in its detoxification processes. Turmeric has a mild, earthy taste and is delicious mixed into eggs, curries, or on top of roasted cauliflower.
Cloves: Cloves have one of the highest levels of antioxidants of any food you can consume. Cloves can be used in sweet dishes (such as baked goods, oatmeal, spiced muffins…) or in savory dishes like the recipe below for an Armenian Stew!
Cinnamon: Cinnamon contains antioxidants that are beneficial for a stable blood sugar. It is also good at balancing cholesterol levels and inhibiting cancer cell growth. The flavor is said to help satiate a raging appetite and can be mixed into many dishes with ease! Try cinnamon paired with chocolate, mixed into batters, or on top of apple slices for a quick and easy treat!
Oregano: Oregano is a powerful antioxidant and has pathogen-fighting properties to help your body stay healthy. Oregano can be used to help guard your body against infections but also tastes delicious in tomato dishes and on vegetables. Pair oregano with basil, the flavors go well together and pack an extra antioxidant punch!
Adding spices wherever possible can go a long way in supporting good health. The phytonutrients they contain not only help your body fight off free radicals, but provide extra nutrients your body needs to prevent disease and feel your best. Try this recipe that includes a large array of spices and tastes delicious!
Armenian Lentil Stew
Total Time: 1 hour
- 1 cup dry lentils
- 5 cups vegetable stock
- 1/4 cup dried apricots
- 1 Tbsp avocado oil
- 1 bell pepper
- 1/2 onion
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 Tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp dried cloves or Jamaican allspice
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp paprika
In a large stock pot, simmer first three ingredients for 30 min. Meanwhile sauté veg in oil. Once done, add to simmered lentils. Add tomatoes, spices and simmer another 20 min. Serve with a dollop of plain greek yogurt (optional) and fresh parsley