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Spice up your life: Seasonings to use for flavor and fitness
by Laurel |  Sep 26, 2013

Life would be pretty boring without spices - just think about all those amazing Italian, Mexican, Indian and Asian dishes that simply wouldn't be the same without them.

Still, there are many reasons to season your food beyond flavor. In fact, not only do they amp up the flavor of your meal but some varieties also offer considerable nutritional benefits with every shake. While certain spices have the potential to kick up your metabolism, others can even help to ward off worrisome diseases. It's no wonder cultures have been using them for medicinal purposes for thousands of years.

Are you ready to spice things up? Stock up your cabinet with these seasonings and get cooking.

Turmeric
It's no surprise that Indian Ayurvedic medicine has heavily relied on this spice. According to MSN News, research has shown that the active antioxidant curcumin can improve your heart health by balancing triglyceride and insulin levels, and can also inhibit the growth of cancer. Not only that, but the source noted that it can act as an anti-inflammatory. One study determined that daily intake of curcumin works just as well as ibuprofen for osteoarthritis. Still, it's best to stick with a teaspoon a day, as overdosing may actually contribute to gallbladder problems or hinder blood clotting.

Try adding a shake to tuna salad with raisins, chopped onions and a dab of olive oil-based mayonnaise. This yellow spice also makes a great rub for chicken or tilapia, and can give boring rice a great boost of flavor.

Cinnamon
Cinnamon can certainly sweeten any dish, but it also packs a bevy of powerful health perks. MSN explained that antioxidant properties protect cells from harmful free radicals in the air. It can also improve the functionality of insulin, thereby lowering your blood sugar levels, and may help to fend of Alzheimer's disease. 

It's the perfect time to incorporate this spice into your diet, too, as it pairs well with so many favorite fall dishes. You can add 1/2 teaspoon to your morning cereal, oatmeal or Greek yogurt, or even use it to season your coffee and you might find you need less sugar. It's also a delicious addition to sliced apples or baked sweet potatoes.

Oregano
Oregano is basically a micro-salad: Tons of nutrients packed into tiny dried leaves. According to Fitness magazine, there's actually the same amount of antioxidants in one teaspoon of this spice as there is in three cups of spinach. As an added bonus, recent research has shown that oregano could prevent bacteria in the food we digest from multiplying, thus reducing the likelihood of stomach sickness.

There are endless possibilities with this seasoning, but it's an especially flavorful addition to Italian cuisine. Try shaking some into your pasta sauce or onto a slice of pizza. You could also use it to concoct your own salad dressing: Fitness suggested heating 1/2 teaspoon of oregano to a small pan with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a touch of red pepper flakes, then adding red wine vinegar to taste. 

Cayenne pepper
Looking to rev up your metabolism? Eating Well revealed that capsaicin, which is highly concentrated in chili peppers, can accelerate your body's fat-burning capabilities. Since studies of capsinoids, related but less strong substances found in milder chili blends, can have the same impact, paprika can offer the same perks. It also may help to reduce your chance of getting an ulcer while keeping the "bad" LDL cholesterol under control.

This spice packs a punch, and is perfect for seasoning black beans or steak. If your red pepper soup is tasting bland, toss in a pinch of cayenne to turn the heat up a notch.

Ginger
Feeling sore after a grueling workout? Fitness magazine noted that this spice can offer your muscles serious relief. In fact, people who ate 1 teaspoon of ginger for 11 consecutive days lowered their exercise-related pain by 25 percent. It can also help to soothe an unsettled stomach. Try sprinkling it into your tea, or adding it to applesauce for some extra zing.

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