Wellbeing

Why You Should Get Into Your Spice Rack (And Four Of The Best To Know)

If you don’t have your local Indian joint on speed dial, you should try letting things get a bit spicy more often. Wellbeing expert, Casey Beros, talks us through four stellar spices, what they’re good for and how to use them.

If the only action your spice rack has been getting is gathering dust at the back of your pantry, it’s time to break out those festive little bottles and have yourself a spice party. Not only are spices a brilliant way of adding flavour to the foods you eat without adding unnecessary calories, oil or salt – their antioxidant-rich make up gives your health a massive high five. Win.

What’s the big deal?

Our bodies are constantly dealing with external stuff throughout the course of being alive – some are good things like oxygen, and some bad like pollutants, cigarette smoke, and a poor diet. The body has a chemical reaction when it experiences these stimuli, and a side effect of that interaction is that our bodies create free radicals. Free radicals don’t play nice: they cause stress and damage to cells, and potentially cause disease.

Antioxidants are kryptonite to free radicals, combating the effects of oxidative stress on our bodies. We can’t produce enough of the little fellas, so we have to give our systems a helping hand, and the foods we eat play a vital role. Enter: the humble spice, jam-packed full of these tiny antioxidant heroes.

Don’t be afraid of the spice

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Due to their intense flavour, it’s difficult to get enough spice into us to reap the benefits. As a starting guide, you can approach the antioxidant attack from all angles by ramping up your intake of other antioxidant-rich items like berries, green tea, colourful vegetables and even red wine.

Nutritional Counsellor and The Cusp expert, Nikki Heyder from NOOD, says many people don’t benefit from the healing power of spices because they’re considered foreign territory. “Experimenting with spices can be daunting,” she explains. “Knowing how much to use or which spice goes with what takes time to figure out, but if you don’t try then you’ll never know.”

When making your own meals, don’t be scared of the spice – it doesn’t always mean adding heat, and you’ll seriously impress your mates. Nikki recommends adding spices to you food, as they “not only boost flavour but can add amazing nutritional benefits including improving circulation, firing up your metabolism, reducing inflammation, boosting antioxidants and balancing hormones.”

Here are four common spices you’ll find sitting in your pantry (or at least in the aisles of most health food stores and supermarkets).

Turmeric: The brains trust

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This anti-inflammatory wonder spice leaves as much a mark on your health as it will on your hands. The bright yellow stem is from the ginger family, and thanks to biologically-active curcumin, it’s bloody good for you.

What’s it good for?

#1 Slowing the onset of brain-related diseases like Alzeimer’s and dementia. Small amounts make the benefit minimal, but any help staying sharp is worth a weekly curry night, right?

#2 It’s an anti-inflammatory weapon, making it a powerful aid for people with inflammatory conditions like arthritis, but also to reduce common inflammation in the body which can decrease your ability to connect with others.

#3 Your waistline: turmeric increases your metabolic rate and feelings of satiety (feeling full), meaning you use up more energy and want to eat less. Boomtown.

How do I use it?

Grate it, juice it or grab some ground powder to add to cooking (and especially good for curries). Watch your hands – that yellow sticks, and Bart Simpson is a good look on, well, no one.

Rosemary: immune and nostalgia boosting

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This oldie-but-goodie likely conjures images of Nan’s lamb roast, but this free-radical fighter does way more than elevate the humble meat and potatoes. High levels of antioxidants along with anti-microbial properties can help kill or inhibit the growth of microorganisms that make us sick, so rosemary is a winner when it comes to our health.

What’s it good for? 

#1 Helping memory, concentration and relieving stress, making it a student or working professional’s best friend

#2 Boosting the immune system – perfect for ramping up cold and flu defences in the cooler months

#3 Improving circulation which our hearts L.O.V.E

#4 Calming the digestive system 

How do I use it?

Of course use as much as you like on your roasts and veggies, but also consider throwing a bunch into soups, stocks and dips. A trick is to tie clear string around the base of a few stems, to create a bunch that will keep all together and still release the flavour, perfect for when you don’t want the actual plant to end up in whatever you’re whipping up.

Cinnamon: bacteria busting and digestive soother

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It’ll top a custard tart like a champ, but cinnamon’s antiseptic properties can help cleanse the body of bad bacteria, too. Get quills and blend them in a food processor to maximise freshness, or the powdered stuff will do the trick if you’re busy.

What’s it good for?

#1 Aiding in digestion, hence the reason it’s a go-to for many herbal teas and tinctures. It’ll help soothe an upset stomach and indigestion, and can even help with nausea

#2 Improving circulation

#3 Keeping blood sugar levels in check, making it an ace for diabetics and a metabolism-boosting weight loss tool (sans custard tart, sadly)

How do I use it?

Don’t limit this bad boy to sweets, it’s an epic addition to savoury dishes. Try adding to all of your curries as well as savoury muffins (think carrot, pumpkin – vegetables on the sweeter scale) and soups. 

Cayenne Pepper: packing heat for a fast metabolism

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In the wise words of nutritional stalwart Nelly, it’s getting Hot in Herre. Cayenne Pepper was a key ingredient in the Lemon Detox Diet circa 10 years ago, along with water, air, dust, and minus any form of common sense or regard for actual wellbeing. The one thing they got right though, was the Cayenne Pepper. In simple terms, raising the body’s temperature fires up the metabolism. Literally.

What’s it good for?

#1 It’s metabolism-boosting properties, which could help with weight loss when combined with exercise and a healthy diet

#2 Cleansing the system and helping drive out nasties, hence the reason it’s often used in detox programs

#3 Clearing mucus and easing sore throats and the common cold 

How do I use it?

Add it to meals instead of your chilli flakes or get it into a cup of hot water with lemon, ginger and a little honey if you have a cold; sip your health woes away.


Casey is an established health journalist, health coach and co-founder of Paper Tiger Wellness. She is also a Barre instructor, as well as a health educator for FreshEd – a health education program for teens in Australia.