I am a firm believer in using natural, whole, and organic foods as the first line of defense for superior health. That said, I’m also a realist. As the owner of my own medical practice, and as a full-time doctor, mom, wife, daughter, and sister, my life is busy, to say the least. I don’t have a lot of time to spend on complicated recipes and grocery bags full of supplements. That’s why I love to rely on certain spices.
Eastern healing practices such as Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic medicine have used spices for their health- and flavor-boosting benefits for thousands of years. The following five are my favorites.
1. Turmeric: I’ll start with my favorite. If I had to choose one spice to include in my diet every day—and I do—it would be turmeric. This mustard-colored spice contains bioactive compounds that have powerful medicinal properties, including potent antioxidants. It’s also a natural anti-inflammatory due to its main ingredient, curcumin—but there’s even more to this member of the ginger family. Turmeric has been shown to prevent colds and flu by stimulating your immune system, it reduces arthritis pain, relieves digestive issues, prevents cancer, and boosts your memory and your mood.
How to use it: Start each morning with an immune-system boost with Turmeric Lemon Tea. Just put a tablespoon of turmeric, a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice, and a teaspoon of honey in a large mug. Add boiling water and stir.
2. Cumin: Another digestion-friendly spice, cumin is made from the ground seeds of a plant related to the parsley family, and is another natural anti-inflammatory food.
How to use it: Here’s a favorite family recipe.
Quick Cumin Chicken
- Serves: 4
- 2 teaspoons olive or coconut oil (coat pan with this)
- ¼ cup plain yogurt
- 4 teaspoons garlic powder
- 4 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 pounds chicken thighs (bone-in, skin-on)
- Olive oil cooking spray
- 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Cooked brown rice, optional
- In a large bowl, combine yogurt, garlic and cumin. Mix well. Add chicken and mix to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to overnight.
- Preheat oven to 400ºF. Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. In a food processor, blend cilantro and salt with ½ cup water.
- Remove chicken from marinade; discard marinade. Place chicken in prepared baking dish; top with half of the cilantro mixture. Cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake for another 10 minutes.
- Serve with remaining cilantro sauce on top of brown rice, if desired.
3. Cayenne pepper: This spicy hot red pepper serves as an appetite suppressant, increases circulation, and boosts your immune system. Cayenne contains capsaicin, a plant compound that has pain-relieving effects. It also has vitamin C, B6, potassium, manganese, and other flavonoids. This pepper is alkaline balancing in your digestive system and has been shown to aid digestion and reduce headaches.
How to use it: I like to add a teaspoon of cayenne to chili, tomato sauce, and soups.
4. Black pepper: There it sits innocently next to your salt shaker, but did you know that black pepper is a natural anti-inflammatory, and boosts the bioavailability of turmeric?
How to use it: You can add pepper to just about any savory recipe. I also like to make this tea that features both the pepper and turmeric: Boil some water, add a black or green tea bag, 2 teaspoons ground turmeric, ½ teaspoon ground black pepper, and 1 teaspoon honey. Put it all in a mug and steep for 5 minutes. Bonus: Black and green tea are both known to help your body fight viruses.
5. Garlic powder: Garlic is a powerhouse. It contains allicin, which gives it antibacterial and antiviral properties. It’s also antifungal and anti-parasitic.
How to use it: On busy weeknights, sauté vegetables of your choice with some cut-up chicken, and add a splash of bone broth and plenty of garlic powder. Delicious, fast and easy.