Most spices are imported into the United States from other countries, and the spice trade has been important to the U.S. since colonial times. Some spices, like Nutmeg, for instance, were even used as currency at one point in history.
Spices are used in a wide range of foods and cuisines, and the particular ones sprinkled in a dish can be indicative of a culture. For example, Cajun spice and pumpkin spice are associated with the U.S. while curry is indicative of South Asian cuisine. Spices have played an important role in history and in defining an ethnic cuisine and continue to be an important aspect of food today.
Health Benefits of Spices
We all know that spices can add extra taste, but did you also know that they can play an important role in promoting optimal brain health and cognitive function? Below are some of the ways adding some spice to your food can benefit your brain.
- Anti-inflammatory properties: Many spices, such as turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon, contain compounds that have anti-inflammatory properties. Chronic inflammation has been linked to a variety of cognitive disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, Type 2Diabetes, and depression. By reducing inflammation in the brain, spices may help to improve cognitive function and protect against cognitive decline.
- Antioxidant properties: Spices like rosemary, oregano, and sage contain compounds that have antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help to protect the brain from damage caused by free radicals, which can contribute to cognitive decline and neurological disorders.
- Improved blood flow: Some spices, like cayenne pepper and ginger, can help to improve blood flow to the brain. The increased blood supply can help to improve cognitive function and support overall brain health.
Sprinkle on the Brain Benefits
Fresh or dried, spices can add flavor and variety to your diet, which can help you maintain a healthy eating pattern and avoid monotony. This is important because a diet that is rich in nutrients, including brain-boosting spice additions, has been shown to be beneficial for overall health, including brain health. Incorporating brain-boosting spices into your meals is an easy and delicious way to support your brain health. Let’s explore some top brain health spices, their benefits, and tips to try them!
Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that can help protect the brain from damage. Recommended dose: 500-1000mg of curcumin per day. Tips: Add turmeric to soups, stews, or roasted vegetables.
Ginger contains compounds that can improve blood flow to the brain and reduce inflammation. Recommended dose: 1-2 grams of fresh or dried ginger per day. Tips: Add fresh ginger to smoothies or grate it over stir-fried veggies.
Cinnamon has been shown to improve cognitive function and reduce inflammation in the brain. Recommended dose: 1-2 teaspoons of cinnamon per day. Tips: Add cinnamon to oatmeal, yogurt, or coffee.
Sage contains compounds that can improve memory and cognitive function. Recommended dose: 300-600mg of sage extract per day. Tips: Add fresh or dried sage to roasted meats or vegetables.
Rosemary has been shown to improve cognitive function and mood. Recommended dose: 750mg of rosemary extract per day. Tips: Add fresh rosemary to roasted potatoes or chicken.
Black pepper contains piperine, a compound that can improve cognitive function and reduce inflammation. Recommended dose: 20mg of piperine per day. Tips: Grind fresh black pepper over salads or roasted vegetables.
Cloves contain compounds that can improve memory and protect the brain from oxidative stress. Recommended dose: 1-3 grams of cloves per day. Tips: Add cloves to baked goods or spiced tea.
Saffron has been shown to improve cognitive function and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Recommended dose: 30mg of saffron extract per day. Tips: Add saffron to rice dishes or soups.
Nutmeg contains compounds that can improve cognitive function and mood. Recommended dose: 1-2 teaspoons of ground nutmeg per day. Tips: Add nutmeg to baked goods or sprinkle over roasted vegetables.
Cardamom contains compounds that can improve cognitive function and reduce inflammation. Recommended dose: 1-2 teaspoons of ground cardamom per day. Tips: Add cardamom to smoothies or chai tea.
Spice Up Your Life
Would you like to incorporate more spices into your diet? When adding any spice, it’s important to remember that moderation is key — at least at first until you are familiar with the one you’re using. When grilling, you might want to experiment with different combinations to find your preferred flavor profile. You might want to consult recipes for inspiration and to find just the right balance.
Spices are versatile. Try adding them to marinades. You can make a meat rub. You can play “the chef” and sprinkle them on your favorite dishes. And while you’re doing this, you can feel good about it because you are boosting the food’s brain benefits. You can also grow and use fresh herbs like basil, parsley, and cilantro to add a burst of flavor to your dishes. Please remember to pair your grilled foods with plenty of fresh vegetables and whole grains to optimally support your overall brain health.
A Word of Caution
While spices are generally safe and beneficial, some may interact with certain medications or cause adverse reactions in some individuals. You may need to adjust the doses provided according to your individual health status since these are general guidelines. It is always a good idea to discuss your individual health needs and goals with your healthcare provider. They can help you determine if incorporating these brain-boosting spices into your diet is safe and appropriate for you and provide you with personalized recommendations based on your health history and current medications.
Dr. Krystal L. Culler, DBH, MA, the trailblazing Founder of the Virtual Brain Health Center, is on a mission to revolutionize brain care for everyone. As a Doctor of Behavioral Health and a holistic brain health expert, she brings nearly two decades of unparalleled expertise in working with individuals, families, providers, and advocacy organizations, specializing in brain-related diagnoses.
With her groundbreaking work in translational and applied brain health science, she has garnered a collection of prestigious international and national awards. Her innovative brain health programs and services have left an indelible mark locally, internationally, and globally. Her mission: brain care for all.