Although spices have been part of the human diet for millions of years, recent research has discovered that they can also benefit health. Spices, which are made from buds, bark, fruits, roots, or seeds of plants, can keep their active ingredients for months or even years. They contain phytochemicals which are referred to as phytonutrients. These phytonutrients are compounds in plant-derived foods that are biologically active in the body. They are not a necessity for normal metabolism and do not result in a deficiency disease if they are missing. Although current research is investigating phytochemicals? effects on degenerative disease states, these compounds do help with the struggle against obesity by activating the body’s natural cooling system, which in turn increases metabolism and stimulates perspiration.
Researchers have recently reported that consuming spicy foods, particularly those containing capsaicin, increases the body’s metabolic rate above its basal rate, creating heat. Black pepper also stimulates metabolism by boosting heat production in the body. Researchers have concluded that thermogenic ingredients such as pepper can be considered functional agents to help prevent obesity.
Cinnamon is one of the world’s most commonly used spices. It comes from the bark of a small evergreen found in India. Traditionally, it was used to counteract congestion, aid circulation, and ease nausea and diarrhea. However, it is currently being studied for its effects in preventing or helping osteoarthritis and type II diabetes. A recent study concluded that intake of one to six grams of cinnamon per day reduces serum glucose, triglyceride, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol and patients with type II diabetes.
These results show that adding cinnamon to the diet of those with type II diabetes can possibly reduce risk factors associated with diabetes and other cardiovascular diseases. Additionally, cinnamon has been shown to relieve muscle and joint pain and stiffness, menstrual discomfort, and act as an antimicrobial agent against E. coli and other bacteria. Cinnamon extract has also been shown to have antioxidant activity, assisting wound healing. This spice brings blood from the center of the body to the skin, dispersing blood throughout the body more evenly and possibly decreasing blood pressure.
Nutmeg is a seed, similar to cinnamon, which comes from an evergreen tree cultivated in India, Malaysia, and Granada. It was previously used to treat various ailments such as the plague, liver and stomach problems, scarlet fever, apoplexy, freckles, and bad breath. Small quantities were also used to help people sleep, while larger amounts were administered as a sedative.
Although the spice is widely used in the West to flavor food, spice wine or ales, or to scent soaps and perfumes, nutmeg is also an important part of Eastern and Indian medicines. Studies have shown that one of the essential oils found in nutmeg has been shown to inhibit medicinally induced diarrhea. Cloves, which are the unopened flower bud of the clove tree, were traditionally used as an expectorant and antiemetic. Clove tea was also once used to relieve nausea. Currently, clove oil is used in dentistry as an analgesic and local antiseptic due to its concentration of eugenol.