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The Health Benefits of Spices

Our ancestors knew all about the health benefits of spices. After all, they didn't have the luxury of modern medicine to soothe their sicknesses.

If you woke up with a sore throat in the Stone Age, you couldn't pop an aspirin and power through. And when you caught a cold, you couldn't hug a mug of Lemsip and call it a duvet day.

Achey ankle? Upset stomach? Same deal – you'd just have to grunt and bear it.

While we don't know exactly how the health benefits of spices were discovered, we imagine that it came down to simple experimentation. Ancient people needed relief from their ailments, just as we do – so they turned to the leaves, seeds and pulses that grew in the wild around them.

By Ancient Egyptian times, spices were widely revered for their positive health effects. Chinese and Indian medical practitioners often prescribed spices for everyday ailments, too.

Now, thousands of years later, scientists are starting to think they had a point. Recent studies have shown that some of the health benefits of spices are very real indeed.

The health perks of 4 popular spices: Cinnamon
The health perks of 4 popular spices: Cinnamon

Cinnamon has a long and storied history. It was first traded in Arabia more than 4,000 years ago and was an important ingredient in Ancient Egyptian religious practices. It's little wonder that they call it 'the world's oldest spice'.

Could it also be 'the world's healthiest spice'?

Maybe. See, studies have found that cinnamon can reduce blood sugar levels for people with type 2 diabetes. One paper in particular noted a reduction of up to 29%.

Other studies have suggested that cinnamon could help fight inflammation, reduce cholesterol and even keep our brains fit and healthy.

Doctors wouldn't recommend cinnamon as a replacement for modern meds and a healthy diet. But a little cinnamon on your morning porridge might go a long way.

Chilli peppers could help with heartburn
Chilli peppers could help with heartburn

OK. If you're one of the millions who suffer from chronic heartburn, this one might sound like a cruel joke. Surely chillies – those fiery, belly-burning fruits of the capsicum plant – can't be good for sensitive stomachs?

Yes, we did a double-take too. But what can we say? Science works in mysterious ways.

At least two studies have shown that small daily doses of chilli can help reduce heartburn symptoms – though they don't banish the burn entirely.

It all comes down to pain tolerance. The more we eat hot spices like chillies, the better we get at bearing the burning sensation. That's why chilli aficionados can munch through scotch bonnets like they're made of salted caramel.

And as we train our pain receptors to deal with chillies, they get better at coping with other forms of pain – like heartburn.

The problem? The pain gets worse before it gets better – and the desensitising effects will quickly go away if you stop eating your daily dose.

The good news: chillies share many of the health benefits of spices like cumin and nutmeg. That is to say, they're full of vitamins and minerals that promote everyday well-being.

Turmeric may help fight obesity
Turmeric may help fight obesity

Turmeric is a key ingredient in Ayurveda – the ancient medicinal system of the Indian subcontinent. Ayurvedic texts recommend the spice for digestive trouble, arthritis, gallstones and many other ailments.

Now, it seems, modern medicine is catching up on the health benefits of spices such as turmeric. Scientists have found that the so-called 'golden spice' might help curb obesity.

This is mostly thanks to a very special compound called curcumin. It's curcumin that gives turmeric its beautiful golden hue – and it's a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory to boot.

How might this promote weight loss? It's complicated. Curcumin is believed to disrupt several biological mechanisms that cause obesity, such as chronic inflammation.

As one paper puts it, "through these diverse mechanisms, curcumin reduces obesity and curtails the adverse health effects of obesity".

Thought turmeric was just there to add colour to curries? Think again.

Ginger is an effective treatment for nausea
Ginger is an effective treatment for nausea

We can't talk about the health benefits of spices without mentioning ginger. This rhizomatic remedy has been used as a nausea treatment in China since the Bronze Age.

Were these ancient physicians on the right track? Science says yes.

Studies have consistently shown that ginger can help alleviate motion sickness. So next time you take a ferry, you might want to bung a bulb of ginger in your pocket – just to be safe.

It seems that ginger can help with morning sickness too – and there's evidence to suggest it might be effective for treating nausea caused by chemotherapy. However, you should seek medical advice before trying this, as ginger can interact badly with some chemotherapy drugs.

The best bit? Scientists believe you only need about one gram of the stuff to see positive effects. That equates to about half a teaspoon of fresh, chopped ginger. Zingy!

How to enjoy the health benefits of spices
How to enjoy the health benefits of spices

Keen to add some spice to your diet? Here are some easy ways to enjoy the health benefits of spices for yourself.

Try some new recipes!

In an age where food is faster than ever and a greasy burger is only a click away, it's no wonder many of us are trying to cook more nutritious meals at home.

How about kick-starting your meal plan with some delicious spicy dishes? You'll get to try some new global flavours and you'll benefit from some proven health perks in the process.

There's a wealth of recipes online that you can mine for inspiration. Go wild!

Drink spice shots
Drink spice shots

As the world gets wise to the health benefits of spices, a few clever companies have sprung up to offer nutrient-packed spice shots.

These are just what they sound like – convenient, gluggable little drinks that are full of health-boosting spices like turmeric and ginger.

The downside is that daily shots can get expensive. But it's easy to make your own at home – all you need is some fruit juices, a few spices and a blender.

Treat yourself to a gourmet curry
Treat yourself to a gourmet curry

DIY wellness recipes are fab, sure. But they're also a faff.

Don't fancy slaving over a hot stove? Too tired to even look at the washing-up pile? Here's an idea: book yourself in for a three-course meal at our acclaimed Bokhara Brasserie.

Dine with us and you'll have your pick of delicately spiced delights – from crispy samosas to mouthwatering, ginger-infused lamb curries.

High-quality spices and fresh ingredients are specialities of ours. So as well as enjoying a truly memorable dining experience, you'll also reap some bonus health benefits. Win-win.