By Jodi Smith of Spice of Life

Variety is the Spice of Life! Spices and herbs can be the foundation of our cooking, transforming everyday foods into new and exciting culinary adventures. The biggest reason we add spices to our food is flavor, but spices do more than perk up our dishes. High-quality spices are a nutritional powerhouse with health-promoting benefits.

Creating healthy and delicious meals flavored with spices is an excellent way to reduce calories and unhealthy ingredients. Unlike sauces and condiments that are generally loaded with calories, refined sugar, salt and other processed ingredients, spices allow you to boost the taste of your food in a healthy way.

Spices and herbs come from plants, which means they are a source of phytonutrients with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. What’s the difference between spices and herbs? Herbs are typically the leafy part of the plant (parsley, basil, oregano, and bay leaf) and spices come from other parts of the plant such as the bark, seeds, stems and roots. Coriander, cumin, clove, cinnamon, fennel, and peppercorn are examples of spices.

There are countless ways to vary flavors with healthy foods and make it more interesting. When time is short and you are pressed for time, spices are an easy way to accentuate simple whole foods such as fish, vegetables, meat, chicken, soups, whole grains, rice and lentils. Using good-quality spice blends offers a time-saving benefit, providing they are good-quality blends not loaded with salt, sugar and preservatives. Pulling a healthy meal together can be quick and easy and having some of the essentials on hand in your kitchen is key.

Here’s a list of a few basics for your spice cabinet: Basil, parsley, paprika, garlic, onion, ginger, cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, chili, rosemary, smoked paprika (one of my favorites), black pepper and pink Himalayan salt or sea salt.

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A handful of spices have reached an elevated status due to both their incredible flavors as well as their potential to decrease inflammation, aid digestion, reduce cholesterol, fight cancer and boost our immune system.

Turmeric, typically found in Indian dishes, has an intense, bright orange/yellow color with mild flavor. Add to rice dishes, curries, marinades, eggs, chicken rub, and salad dressing. Vegetables such as carrots, squash, cauliflower and potatoes work well with a dash of turmeric. Adding a pinch of black pepper helps your body better absorb the nutrients in turmeric.

Ginger is an impressive root and a powerhouse for both flavor and health. Add fresh or dried ginger to everything from soups, stir fry dishes, marinades, rubs, and vegetables. Ginger can be effective in overall gut health and helps your body absorb and assimilate nutrients from other foods we eat.

Cayenne pepper packs a punch of heat as well as health benefits. The compound capsaicin is responsible for aiding in a variety of health issues. Sprinkle cayenne on egg dishes, vegetables, soups, marinades, meats, poultry, stews, and more.

Spices you stock in your pantry will depend on your taste preferences as well as your comfort level in using them. Here are a few ideas of spices that characterize different cuisines from around the world. For example, Chinese food welcomes garlic, ginger, star anise, cinnamon, and sesame oil. Italian dishes often include garlic, oregano, parsley, rosemary, and fennel seed while Mexican cuisine builds flavor from cumin, chilis, coriander, oregano, cilantro and various citrus.

Allowing your taste buds to enjoy the flavor of foods by reducing the amount of salt can enhance your experience. Over-salted food tends to numb our taste buds and subdue our sensitivity to other flavors. Check labels at the supermarket, limit processed foods that can be loaded with sodium, avoid over-processed “table salt” and substitute with sea salt or pink Himalayan salt. Fresh lemon juice is a wonderful flavor enhancer and a healthier option than reaching for the salt shaker. Consuming too much salt can cause high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease and kidney disease. Substituting spices and herbs for salt will uplift your meals and transform bland dishes into mouth-watering feasts.

Celebrating healthy ingredients and bringing balance and flavor can be magical. Adding texture, color and increasing flavors can bring healthy food alive.

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