This week we will be looking at a lean approach to seasonings. You'll get my ultimate list of common spices that can help you with your plant-based eating and possible weight control. But before we start, let's first define what is a spice?
Herbs and spices: what's the difference?
Spices are by-products of the plant or the plant itself that can be made of roots, barks, seeds or fruits of a plant. Usually, they are more commonly available in warm and tropical countries. About 40 varieties are known worldwide. The seasoning properties of many plants are often only a by-product of nature. In order to protect against pests, the plants produce scents that are used by us to refine our food.
Don't confuse them with herbs that you can grow in your garden. We will tackle herbs in one of our future posts. The most significant difference between them is that herbs are leaves of plants.
When talking about spice definition, remember, these are fresh or dried parts of plants or fruits that are used to enhance the taste of food. They may not be technically processed or mixed with other substances. When blended together, they are called spice mixtures and have their own names.
Health benefits of spices
These salt-free flavorings can provide you with vitamins and minerals, clear toxins from your body, and prevent diseases.
Did you know that some of them contain a huge amount of effective antioxidants to neutralize free radicals? Research suggests that they have the potential of protecting you against many serious diseases like cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer disease, and other health problems. (1)
These flavorings can provide a wonderful taste and, in combination with other food, they can increase the power of natural antioxidants exponentially.
Different studies suggest even more health benefits. (2) The right spices can:
- support the fat burning process and enhance metabolism
- help lower high blood pressure
- support heart health
- carry anti-inflammatory properties
- boost the immune system
- ease pain
- appease an upset stomach
So, are spices healthy? You bet they are!
4 top healthy spices for weight control
In spite of all these benefits, there is actually no need to let seasonings take over your kitchen if you are a clean eating beginner. Just keep your collection to the few most effective, healthiest spices to maximize results.
The following four super flavorings can support you with your health and weight management
1. Cayenne or red pepper flakes
At the top of the list is Cayenne coming from the same types of peppers as crushed red pepper flakes. If you have ever tried a spicy chili con carne, then you know how it can make you sweat. This is a sign that your metabolism is raised, which helps you burn fat faster. An interesting study showed that people who ate an appetizer with red pepper flakes consumed 15% less food.
I put Cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper flakes in my clean eating meals whenever I feel they need some zest. In terms of spiciness, you can definitely substitute one for the other. Most resources I've found say that you add about 3/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes for every 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne or vice versa.
This old bark contains one of the highest antioxidant levels of all seasonings – surprisingly 10-50 x more than blueberries (1). Only cloves have higher levels, but they are rarely used in any regular recipes except for baking. In addition, cinnamon can fight fat cells through a blood sugar lowering effect. Stabilized blood sugar levels are an important factor for smart weight management.
I love to add some cinnamon to my healthy homemade granola but also to my breakfast muesli with oats, apples, and yogurt.
Another amazing seasoning with higher antioxidant levels is cumin. It is known for being extremely beneficial for digestion and detoxifying your body. Like cinnamon, it helps keep blood sugar levels stable, which means less chance of excess body fat and weight gain. On top of that, cumin is a natural flatulence treatment.
By the way … I never cook my cabbage soup without cumin.
Studies have shown that the ginger root contains over 25 different antioxidants and hence provides a whole bunch of health benefits – too many to list them all. I love to make hot water simmered with a few slices of ginger to cure sore throats caused by colds or the flu.
The great thing about ginger spice is that you can just toss the root in the freezer without packaging. Grate some slices whenever you need them. From a weight management aspect, ginger can boost digestion and metabolism, stabilize blood sugar levels and, like cumin, it also relieves gas and bloating.
Upgrade your meals without extra calories
Each time you prepare your meals with flavorful seasonings, you are upgrading your food without additional calories. This is especially important in a clean eating kitchen that some people claim is boring and bland. The opposite is true if you know how to pimp up your dishes and enjoy all the above-mentioned benefits.
4 organizational steps that will help you include a healthy spice mix as part of your nutrition
- Open your storage system for your seasonings and get the garbage bin handy. Now it’s time to throw away any expired, dusty, or sticky flavorings. As mentioned, we will talk about herbs in a separate challenge.
- Buy and replace only the 10 seasonings you’ve used frequently for the last couple of months. Make sure to also include the super flavorings presented here: cayenne, cinnamon, cumin or ginger powder. Choose whatever you love most that best suits your clean eating style but make sure to buy only the highest quality. You may want to store fresh ginger roots in your freezer.
But there is more…
- Organize your seasonings in a way where you can't overlook them (e.g. store them on a special rack organizer or lazy Susan). That way, it’s easy to see the labels and grab whatever spice you need right when you need it.
- With buying and adding those flavorings to your meals, you’ve already made yourself a big gift. Do you think your actual storage system is a mess or not practical enough? Take your time and invest in a better storage solution. Nowadays you have many choices, including magnetic, pull-outs, drawers, cabinet doors or wall cabinet organizers.
If you want a fool-proof process to further simplify your clean eating habits for weight loss, you should consider joining my 52 Chef Habits E-Course.
4 additional tips to spice up your life
- Add cayenne pepper to your soups, stews, chili, or morning eggs for a little metabolism boosting
- Enjoy cinnamon in your oatmeal breakfast (perfect match with apples), yogurt, smoothies or as a healthy addition to your coffee or tea
- Cumin plays the main role in foods from many countries: Indian curries, Mexican bean pots but also the good old American barbecue sauce. Try cumin also with hummus, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, lentils or grains
- Fresh ginger – grated or minced – brings a wonderful zest to almost every stir-fry or creamy winter soup.
Note: Always check with your doctor to be sure certain seasonings don’t inhibit medications you may be taking.
Which are your favorite spices for healthy living? If you could only keep one seasoning on hand of those mentioned above, which would it be and why?