The 7 Best Spices for Fighting Inflammation
Turmeric may be the most widely known anti-inflammatory spice, but there are plenty of other spices that offer comparable benefits and deserve to share the spotlight. Research suggests these benefits largely stem from anti-inflammatory effects triggered by the biologically active compounds in spices. Research also suggests that overall spice intake—not just the consumption of one spice—is responsible for the powerful anti-inflammatory health effects seen in areas like India (read more on that here).
This means regularly incorporating a variety of spices with anti-inflammatory effects can be one of the best ways to use food as medicine. Check out these 7 top anti-inflammatory spices, along with specific health conditions research suggests they impact.
Recipe pictured above: Salt & Pepper Shrimp with Snow Peas
"Black gold" is how spice traders referred to pepper hundreds of years ago for its monetary value, and we still might want to call it that today because of its health benefits. Coming from dried unripe pepper berries, black peppercorns contain several compounds that impart anti-inflammatory effects and even enhance the absorption of curcumin (the key compound in turmeric).
Grind your peppercorns before adding to food to get the most powerful punch from this spice from flavor and health perspectives. Also, store extra peppercorns in the freezer, and replace those stored at room temperature every three months.
Anti-Inflammatory Impact: Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, arthritis, asthma, and some cancers.
Recipe pictured above: Purple Power Slaw with Sesame-Ginger Vinaigrette
Widely known as a treatment for mild digestion issues and nausea, ginger contains an active compound known as 6-Gingerol that eases inflammation and pain thanks to a small analgesic effect. Because of this, the Arthritis Foundation recommends ginger as a top spice for those with arthritis. Studies also suggest that ginger's anti-inflammatory effects may also have positive effects on diabetes and Alzheimer's, and benefits have been seen after consuming both dried and fresh ginger.
Anti-Inflammatory Impact: Arthritis, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, digestive issues.
Recipe pictured above: One-Pot Tomato Basil Pasta
The compound responsible for red pepper's spicy heat, capsaicin, is the same compound that gives red pepper anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, particularly when it comes to cancer. In fact, research suggests that capsaicin has the ability to inhibit cancer-related inflammatory compounds to prevent and/or halt cancer cell growth. The compound also has potential benefits when it comes to pain relief and lowering of cholesterol.
Anti-Inflammatory Impact: Cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease.
Recipe pictured above: Cinnamon Roll Overnight Oats
It's one we often save for baking, but cinnamon is a spice to incorporate on a regular basis. This is because research looking at cinnamon's anti-inflammatory effects suggests the spice can play a therapeutic role in lowering blood sugar, lowering cholesterol, managing neurodegenerative diseases and halting the proliferation of some cancers. Try sprinkling cinnamon in oatmeal, yogurt and coffee rather than in baked goods with added sugar (added sugar is a pro-inflammatory food).
Recipe pictured above: Slow-Cooker Braised Beef with Carrots & Turnips
Antioxidants are a key part of an anti-inflammatory diet because they stop free radicals from initiating new inflammation, and, among spices, cloves have some of the highest antioxidant activity. Eugenol, the active compound in clove, also appears to suppress inflammatory pathways to inhibit the progression of asthma and the growth of cancer cells. Research is currently exploring eugenol's potential for treating diabetes and depression.
Anti-Inflammatory Impact: Asthma, heart disease, cancer, depression, diabetes.
Recipe pictured above: Rosemary Chicken with Sweet Potatoes
Imparting a woody lemon scent, rosemary's needle-like leaves can be used fresh, dried and ground in cooking. Rosemary contains biologically active compounds that induce anti-inflammatory effects, which impact the brain and gut in particular. Because depression stems from increased inflammatory pathways in the body along with changes in the gut-brain axis, some research suggests that rosemary can play a therapeutic role in treating depression by alleviating brain inflammation and rebalancing gut bacteria.
Anti-Inflammatory Impact: Asthma, depression, anxiety, some cancers, Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Recipe pictured above: Chopped Veggie Grain Bowls with Turmeric Dressing
Because of its anti-inflammatory potential, turmeric has surged in popularity, even becoming a daily supplement for many. Its benefits stem from curcumin, a compound that appears to inhibit inflammatory cytokines and block free radicals from triggering new inflammation. These actions are why some suggest turmeric as a treatment for Alzheimer's by providing neuroprotection and offering benefits or protection for a whole host of other conditions. The only downside is curcumin's low bioavailability. However, combining turmeric with black pepper increases curcumin's bioavailability by 2000%.
Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD, is author to the new cookbook, Meals That Heal: 100 Everyday Anti-Inflammatory Recipes in 30 Minutes or Less, and a culinary nutrition expert known for ability to simplify food and nutrition information. She received a 2017 James Beard Journalism award. You can follow her on Instagram @realfoodreallife_rd or on carolynwilliamsrd.com