It’s no secret that spices give foods their distinctive flavors. But, what you may not know is that like their brethren, fruits and vegetables, spices are packed with a plethora of different phytonutrients. When we consume these concentrated plant constituents powerful antioxidants and other disease-protective compounds are passed along.
While nutrition scientists haven’t identified every compound yet, let alone figured out what they do or how they all work, here are four spices that have been researched and shown to have promising benefits for lifters.
Loaded with antioxidants, cinnamon has the potential to improve body composition, athletic performance, and good health. Consumption helps offset some of the negative effects of unhealthy eating. Taken with a high fat meal, cinnamon reduced serum triglycerides by nearly 1/3 versus a cinnamon-free meal with similar nutritionals. USDA led research also demonstrated that cinnamon extract helped reduce fasting blood glucose levels in obese pre-diabetic individuals after 12 weeks. Just the smell of cinnamon boosts cognitive function by improving visual-motor response and attention scores. In addition, the antioxidants in cinnamon, and its metabolites after digestion, have been shown to have protective benefits for the central nervous system.
WAYS TO GET MORE: Sprinkle liberally into coffee or tea, oatmeal, yogurt, peanut or almond butter, and protein shakes.
Most commonly used for nausea and upset stomach, ginger significantly reduces exercise-induced pain and inflammation. And at least one study demonstrated that ginger increased testosterone concentrations.
WAYS TO GET MORE: Make ginger tea, toss fresh peeled ginger into stir fries, smoothies or salads, drink ginger ale (make sure it’s made with real ginger), eat crystallized ginger, take dietary supplements containing ginger extract.
Regular consumption of hot peppers has been linked to healthier hearts and curtailed cancer cell activity. The capsaicinoid compounds that give peppers their heat have also been shown to significantly boost your metabolism, increase fat oxidation, and even counteract the decline in testosterone synthesis that characteristically accompanies weight loss. Most recently, researchers at the University of Vermont observed a 13% lower mortality rate in people that regularly ate chili peppers over a 20-year period.
WAYS TO GET MORE: If spicy foods aren’t your thing or you’re prone to heartburn and G.I. distress, capsaicinoid containing supplements are also available. Choose pepper extracts that are microencapsulated for easier digestion and targeted delivery.
Curcumin, the component responsible for turmeric’s bright orange-yellow color, is credited with everything from curbing heartburn to cancer. From an athletic standpoint, turmeric’s apparent ability to curtail joint pain is particularly interesting. Although the exact mechanisms of action aren’t well understood, one study actually found that the anti-inflammatory powers of turmeric extract supplements were as effective as ibuprofen in patients with knee osteoarthritis.
WAYS TO GET MORE: Eat some Indian or Thai (curries are packed with turmeric), make a tea (¼-1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric in 1 cup boiling water), or add it to rice, scrambled eggs, cooked greens, soups, and smoothies.