The Spice Is Right: Health Promoting Spices

Spices are a fundamental ingredient in any dish if you want to experience delicious and exotic flavours in your meal but taste isn’t the only benefit that can be derived from spices. Our ancestors used them for medicinal purposes and now it seems that scientific research supports this decision. There really is something more to spices than meets the eye (or tastebuds in this case)!

Not only does each individual spice offer an array of health benefits, they also aid weight loss by substituting unhealthy additions to our meals. Sweet spices can reduce or eradicate the use of sugar in foods and savoury spices can reduce our salt intake. On average, spices only contain 4-7 calories per tablespoon making them the low calorie solution to maintaining a healthy diet without resorting to dull and unexciting meals.

Science is yet to prove (beyond dispute) that any spice can cure disease. However, it has supplied compelling evidence that several spices may help manage chronic conditions, fight infections and improve digestion when consumed in moderation.

Chilli Pepper

Chilli is associated with many positive influences on physiological ailments. While many people associate hot food with digestive upset, the opposite appears to be true! Research suggests that chilli helps protect the stomach lining and prevent gastric damage associated with anti-inflammatory painkillers. It helps to reduce gastric acid and one study found that it reduced the risk of peptic ulcers by 53%! However, be wary of your portion sizes!! Too many chilli peppers (more than 9 whole peppers) and you increase your chances of developing stomach cancer. I imagine your stomach wouldn’t be the only issue if you ate this many each day though!

When it comes to pancreatic and lung cancer, chilli is said to have anti-cancer properties. Research has shown that capsaicin (responsible for the burning sensation) in chilli can kill pancreatic and lung cancer cells without damaging the surrounding healthy cells.

Chilli can also help prevent cholesterol build up, decreasing risk of developing cardiovascular disease and it is speculated that it can reduce a person’s insulin requirements suggesting it may be useful in the treatment and prevention of diabetes.


Like chilli, this spice is associated as having cancer fighting ability. As well as this, turmeric contains anti-inflammatory compounds known as curcumoids which can help slow down the degenerative process relating to alzheimers, reduce arthritic pain and when used appropriately, help to heal certain skin infections.


It has been used to help with stomach upset for years and rightly so! Many people report this spice to be effective against morning sickness (and general nausea), migraines, the flu and menstrual cramps. Ginger is also a natural remedy for heartburn and is currently being researched as an effective treatment for ovarian and colon cancer. There are also studies which suggest that ginger is useful in ameliorating arthritic pain.


Garlic has been found to have a positive effect on many health issues:

· It helps to fend off colds and infections. It has antifungal and antibiotic properties in raw form.

· It prevents against heart disease by lowering blood pressure and reducing low-density lipoprotein levels (LDL – bad cholesterol). Studies have found that garlic reduced systolic blood pressure by 5.5% and LDL by 9% if you consume 1/2 - 1 clove per day.

· Be wary of consuming too much garlic though! Not only will your breath smell horrendous, you also risk irritating your digestive tract!


Although no spice has been proven to treat type 2 diabetes, cinnamon is associated with helping to protect against the development of this chronic condition.

Cinnamon can also help prevent heart disease as it is known to counteract congestion by lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Cayenne Pepper

As several metabolic diseases and degenerative disorders are closely associated with oxidative processes in the body, one of the most obvious advantages for ingesting spices is that it is a great source of antioxidants. Cayenne pepper is no exception to this rule. Sprinkling a little cayenne pepper on your meal may help boost immunity and prevent the development of disease.

Black Pepper

The popular spice sitting on most dining room tables contains Piperine which is associated with boosting metabolism. If you are trying to lose weight, perhaps using more of the pepper shaker and less of the salt shaker would be a good idea! A study found that ingesting black pepper raises metabolism by ~8% for several hours post-meal.


Oregano is a major source of thymol and carvacol which help fight infection. This spice also contains four times the amount of antioxidants found in blueberries!

Mustard Seeds

If you are looking for a natural way to burn fat quicker, this may be your answer! Mustard seeds have been found to increase metabolism rate by up to 25% and the thermogenic property of the mustard seed make it a great fat burner!


If you suffer from irritable bowl syndrome(IBS) and you steer clear of spicy foods in order to help calm your digestive system, you may want to rethink this plan. Coriander is known to reduce the painful symptoms of IBS. It contains an anti-spasmodic agent which helps to relax contracted digestive muscles which may be causing you pain.


Whether you want to lose weight, reduce symptoms of a physiological ailment or simply experience new flavours, spices are a great addition to a healthy lifestyle.


Rahman MS, Allicin and Other Functional Active Components in Garlic: Health Benefits and Bioavailability, International Journal of Food Properties, 2007, 10(2): 245-68.

Iyer A, Panchal S, Poudyal H, Brown L, Potential Health Benefits of Indian Spices in the Symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome: A Review, Indian Journal of Biochemistry and Biophysics, 2009, 46(6): 467-81.

Krishnaswamy K, Traditional Indian Spices and their Health Significance, Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2008, 17(1): 265-8.

Tapsell LC, Hemphill I, Cobiac L, Sullivan DR, Fenech M, Patch CS, Roodenrys SJ, Keogh J, Clifton P, Williams P, Fazio VA and Inge KE, Health Benefits of Herbs and Spices: The Past, The Present, The Future, Medical Journal of Australia, 2006, 185(4): 4-24.

About the Author

Job Role Sports Nutritionist and Social Media Coordinator Qualifications Bsc Sport and Exercise Science Steph has a competitive athletic background which spans 19 years. As a child she performed with the English Youth Ballet and had performed on the West End stage by the age of 10. Her enthusiasm for sport and fitness continued to grow as she did, encouraging her to learn more about nutrition and training. She began using her knowledge and personal experience to help others when she began coaching at the age of 16. From here, she went on to study Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Essex during which time she also received the Most Promising Newcomer Award from her University to mark her outstanding contribution to sport. During her first year of study she was introduced to partner stunt acrobatics and artistic gymnastics. After one year of dedicating herself to a lifestyle revolving around her sport, she was training with the best team in the UK who are currently ranked fifth in the world. Steph has worked in both the private and public sector coaching children and adults from grassroot to elite level as well as providing them with cutting edge advice on how to reach their goals. Steph has received awards for her choreography and has competed nationally and internationally meaning that she can back up her scientific knowledge with a wealth of experience. As our resident Sports Nutritionist, Steph is here to provide the most current and evidence based fitness, health and nutrition information to help you reach your health and fitness goals.
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