Delicious in curries, turmeric has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. In a six-week hospital study in Bangkok, a daily 2g dose of turmeric was found to be more effective than ibuprofen at improving pain levels in adults with osteoarthritis of the knee. But that's not all! Curcumin, a compound found in turmeric, may offer some protection against Alzheimer's by blocking the rogue proteins that clump together to destroy brain cells, according to recent research from Australia.
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Spice up your chilli or stew with paprika and you'll also be boosting your immunity-boosting antioxidant intake. It's a particularly good source of carotenoids, two of which are converted to vitamin A – essential for good eye health. A diet rich in antioxidant spices can significantly reduce the stress that high-fat foods put on the heart, according to a study at Penn State University.
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Versatile cinnamon can be sprinkled over both savoury and sweet dishes, as well as hot drinks. It offers a wealth of health benefits – from improving arthritis pain to relieving indigestion. Perhaps most notably, cassia cinnamon boosts blood glucose and cholesterol levels in people with type 2 diabetes, and may reduce some of the risk factors associated with diabetes and heart disease, according to a study published in the Diabetes Care journal.
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It's probably best known for its anti-nausea effect – but ginger has other health benefits, too. Various studies have demonstrated its anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce the pain and discomfort of arthritis. In a trial at the University of Miami School of Medicine, 63 per cent of osteoarthritis patients reported a reduction in pain and overall symptoms after taking ginger capsules for six months, compared to 50 per cent who'd been given a placebo. Ginger can be used in baking, stir-fries and soups – or try ginger tea with just a taste of honey.
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Capsaicin, an active ingredient in cayenne pepper, may aid weight loss by speeding up the metabolism and reduce food cravings, according to a research review published in the journal Chemical Senses. Add cayenne pepper to chilli and Mexican dishes.
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Like cayenne pepper, chilli powder contains capsaicin, which can encourage weight loss. It's also an excellent source of vitamin A and offers natural pain-relieving properties. So don't just use it to flavour chilli: add it soups and stews, too.
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Perfect for spicing up your veggies or adding to sauces, cumin is a good source of iron. There's also evidence to suggest it can encourage weight loss. In a study at Iran's Shahid Sadoughi University of Medical Sciences, women who ate 3g cumin with yoghurt daily as part of a calorie-controlled diet lost an average 3lb more than those who'd followed the same diet but without the cumin. The effect may be down to plant chemicals called phytosterols, which are known to inhibit cholesterol absorption.
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Having trouble sleeping? Sprinkle some nutmeg on your warm milk at bedtime. Nutmeg is a rich source of magnesium, which helps calm the nerves and relax the muscles. It may also help keep your teeth clean - thanks to an anti-bacterial compound called macelignan, which can reduce plaque formation by 50 per cent, according to Italian researchers.
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Leave the salt cellar in the cupboard and use black pepper to flavour your evening meal instead. It contains an active compound called piperine, which can help reduce cholesterol, according to research published in the Journal of Natural Medicines.
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Rich in dietary fibre, iron and bone-building manganese, cardamom may also offer anti-cancer properties, according to research published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention. It can be added to curries, rice and meat dishes.
Learn more about the health benefits of spices