Written by: Holly Larson, MS, RDN
Can anti-inflammatory spices really help us to be healthier? Yes! Our habits in the kitchen – including the use of spices that reduce inflammation – can boost flavor while offering health benefits. Let’s find out how.
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation is a word we talk about a lot these days...but what is it, exactly?
Inflammation is the process of how our bodies defend each and every cell in our body after an injury or infection. Inflammation is the redness and swelling and mounting of our immune systems to keep ourselves safe. Inflammation is natural and normal in response to a short-term threat.
But, being on high alert for a long time is different. Chronic inflammation – the continued fight or flight response – is not normal and unfortunately, increases our risk for many chronic conditions and diseases. Chronic inflammation comes with a higher risk of diabetes, cancer, depression and anxiety (1).
Our modern western lifestyle increases risk of inflammation. These include:
- Too much highly-processed foods
- Chronic stress
- Not enough sleep
- Poor gut health
Regularly including spices that reduce inflammation offers protection against the deluge of inflammatory assaults of modern living. And a variety is best – we have many different mechanisms working tirelessly to keep our body safer. A variety of herbs and spices that reduce inflammation support different mechanisms.
What Herbs and Spices Reduce Inflammation?
Did you know that a lot of what gives herbs and spices their color, aroma and flavor are the same compounds that give them their anti-inflammatory superpowers?
By having a varied diet of fruits, vegetables and anti-inflammatory spices, you help to keep your body as healthy as possible by giving it the tools to take care of different health burdens as they arise.
Ready to learn about the best herbs for inflammation? Here are a few powerful examples.
Turmeric is a cheerful yellow root that is most often used dried and powdered, but can also be purchased fresh. It looks a little bit like ginger root. Turmeric is used in cooking around the world and is what gives curry its distinctive yellow color and flavor. The active component of turmeric is called curcumin and is well-researched as a powerful healer. Curcumin reduces inflammation and works best in partnership with the active ingredient of black pepper (2). Turmeric can be added to curries, rice, smoothies and is what gives golden milk lattes their sunny color. You can also enjoy the health benefits of turmeric in drinks like ZYN.
Oregano is an herb that is used both fresh and dried and adds delicious flavor in both forms. Oregano has anti-inflammatory properties as well as antibacterial properties (3). Enjoy oregano in your scrambled eggs, as a boost to your salad dressings and as a flavor enhancer on your fish.
We may only think of cinnamon as part of desserts, but it is delicious in savory dishes as well as drinks and offers an anti-inflammation boost to boot (4). Add a generous sprinkle to your coffee for a flavor boost without sugar, blend cinnamon in with your banana and peanut butter to round out your smoothie, add generously to your oatmeal and even enjoy cinnamon in your Cincinnati style chili, pork dishes and curry.
You may add black pepper to your dishes without thinking about the health benefits. But in fact, black pepper is anti-inflammatory, too! In addition, black pepper also boosts the absorption of curcumin, from turmeric (5). Each time you break out the pepper grinder to season your meal before digging in, you’re giving yourself an anti-inflammatory boost.
Garlic may not repel vampires, but it will reduce your risk of chronic disease. Garlic reduces your risk of cancer and arthritis (6). When recipes call for a clove or two of garlic, feel free to add more. The flavor and health benefits only increase with each clove! If fresh garlic is a bit too strong for your palate, try roasting whole heads of garlic until they’re soft and sweet.
Safety with Anti-Inflammatory Spices
Herbs and spices have great potential for healing and reducing inflammation. In this article, I focused on using herbs and spices in recipes and drinks while cooking at home. Fresh is best. If your spice jars are dating back to the previous decade, it may be time to get some fresh new jars.
Take caution before using anti-inflammatory spices as supplements. There may be additional health benefits with a higher dose, but speak to your doctor, pharmacist or registered dietitian nutritionist to ensure safety with your current medications and medical history before starting new supplements.*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Holly Larson is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and is the owner of Holly Larson Writes LLC, a nutrition copywriting boutique for dietitians in private practice and wellness brands. Holly is the founder of The RD Blog Club, a writing community for RDNs to learn to write blogs effectively and consistently. In her free time, Holly loves to read, garden and hike with her bernedoodle, Teddy.