Spice Up Your Food and Health

March 17, 2015

Tiny packages with Big Benefits: The value of spicing up our food

 "Spices not only contribute significantly to the gastronomic pleasure of eating but they can also be powerful medicinals."

As we think about our food we often consider the big players of carbohydrates, protein and fat, and the influence they have on our health. Hidden beneath the headlines is a tiny collection of culinary spices that contribute a delectable blast to the senses and big benefits to your health. Without spices think of how flavorless a meal would taste...bland, tasteless and cardboard come to mind. Let’s look at three easy to use spices and their benefits.


This everyday spice is cultivated mainly in India and Indonesia.  Brazil is a producer of pepper but the taste is not as pungent.   In India, black pepper is known as the king of the spices.  In the US, it has always been one of the most popular spices.

Peperine is a substance that gives pepper its pungent flavor but other essential oils, including terpenes, contribute to the aroma. Its alkaloids include the pungent tasting chavicine and piperidine.  The “heat” as measured on a 0-10 point scale can range from 3-8 for pepper depending upon its origin. Black peppercorn contains the most peperine as compared to other colors of peppercorn and has a shelf-life of two to five years unground.  There’s nothing more aromatic than freshly ground pepper on scrambled eggs or a Caesar salad. Enjoy!

Health Benefits - Several studies indicate that black pepper may kill and/or slow the growth of cancer cells. Other studies show that it may be helpful for arthritis.  Black pepper contains the highest amount of antioxidants when it is freshly ground from whole peppercorn at the table after cooking.


The active substance in turmeric is curcumin which gives this spice its golden yellow color. Tumeric is the primary ingredient in Indian curries and provides a characteristic yellow color to American mustard. Use turmeric in chicken dishes, soups and casseroles. Chicken Tikka Masala is a traditional recipe with turmeric.

Health Benefits - Originating in Southern Asia, Tumeric is a spice that has been used for centuries to treat skin conditions, pain and gastrointestinal symptoms. Over 1700 studies have been conducted to examine the benefits including its anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.


This under-appreciated spice only seems to be considered for consumption during Thanksgiving.  Clove is frequently used in the manufacture of toothpastes, soaps, cosmetics and perfumes. The active substance in clove is eugenol. Allspice, basil, cinnamon and thyme also contain this active ingredient but not nearly in the amount found in clove.

The flavor of clove is sweet yet pungent and compliments pork chops and ham with a bold slightly astringent taste. Add some clove and cinnamon to oatmeal or baked apples. Spice up a baked sweet potato with a clove and cinnamon combination. Clove steeped in a chia tea gives it an extra kick.

Health Benefits - Clove has the highest antioxidant content of any spice and races past it nearest competitor Allspice, by more than twofold.

The beauty of all spices is that a little goes a long way to add flavor to our food. Spices can easily substitute for salt or sugar and we are just beginning to appreciate the health benefits of spicing up our life. You can learn how to spice up your food and enjoy flavors so you never have a bland meal again.  So go ahead and experiment with different spices and like they say, “Variety is the spice of life.”

Check out these sites for recipes that you can use to spice up your meals:

Photo credit:  saramarlowe cc

ellen machal


Ellen Michal, RD, LDN, CDE has been a Registered Dietitian for Duke Raleigh Hospital for 15 years. Ellen's areas of practice include Weight Loss and Metabolic Surgery, Diabetes Education, Lifestyle Management and Kidney Disease. The most positive aspect of Ellen's job is seeing people transform their body and mind after surgery.

Read more articles from Ellen Michal!