By Amy Gorin, MS, RDN
When it comes to healthy spices that are good for your health, look no further than this list of seasonings and natural spices. You can even make your own seasoning mix with this list!
I'm going to give you the health scoop on several of my favorite spices and herbs. Make sure you scroll all the way down for a quick list of seasonings and natural spices that I recommend you begin incorporating into your cooking today.
Adding spices and herbs to your food can help everything from your heart health (and reducing your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease) to your immune system and more.
Why Turmeric is Good for You
I'm a big fan of
getting a big nutritional bang out of something small. Enter one of my fave spices: golden turmeric. The powder from this root is making an entry in everything from smoothies to pork
chops—and has long been a staple in Indian and Thai cooking.
While turmeric has plenty of health benefits to boast (more on those in a sec!), you get even more nutritional bang for your buck when you pair the spice with black pepper. So there you have it, a seasoning mix that's seriously good for you.
So what can this superfood of a spice do for you and your body? The vibrantly hued spice may look just like the powder that falls off of Cheetos, but it's way more nutritious. What makes turmeric a stand-out ingredient for your health?
Find out in my Food Network article, in which I lay out all the health benefits of the spice. Here's a sneak peek: Turmeric can not only help reduce inflammation, it has other anti-inflammatory properties as well. The spice boasts antioxidants, which fight off free radicals in your body.
Plus, the main ingredient in curry powder (turmeric!) can enhance your brain health. In my article on The Healthy (a spin-off of Reader's Digest!), you'll get the lowdown on the specific compounds in turmeric that can keep you quick-witted as you age, plus details on 24 other mind-sharpening foods.
Want even more of the best foods for brain health? In the article, my registered dietitian colleagues share their go-to ways to enjoy the spice in salads and savory meals.
By the way, if you're wondering where to buy turmeric powder, here are a few options I like:
Benefits of Eating Chili Peppers
I like spicy food in moderation—I’ll usually order my dishes with medium spice at Thai and Korean restaurants. Chili peppers add flavor to our food. But can they also add health benefits? And might they potentially help you live longer?
When it comes to healthy spices, chili peppers are a must have! A study in PLOS One looked at how hot red chili peppers may affect lifespan.
The study authors looked at over 16,000 adults in the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey, finding that eating hot red chili peppers was associated with a 13% lower chance of death, compared with not eating them at all.
People who consumed them were more likely to be younger, white, or Mexican-American males.
Researchers note that capsaicin present in the peppers may help protect against heart disease—and may alter the gut microbiome. And this, in turn, may affect risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
However, the authors did not find significant association with health outcomes other than mortality in their analysis.
In this study, only the impact of whole hot red chili peppers was investigated, versus that of ground red chili peppers. But have no fear! You can buy dried chilis, or chili pepper turned into paste. And it's likely that the ground variety, as well as cayenne peppers, would provide health benefits, too.
Here are a few options I like:
Eat Cinnamon for More Health Benefits
Cinnamon is a terrific way to add sweetness to yogurt, coffee, baked goods, as well as side dishes—without many calories. It's also one of the top healthy spices out there.
The golden spice is a staple for adding sweetness to foods like Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and smoothies—and even adding pizzazz to savory dishes like stir-fries. It’s also terrific on roasted apples, in baked French toast, and sprinkled on top of French toast.
Cinnamon helps sweeten foods by balancing out bitter notes and add complexity. In the instance of coffee, it's a great sub for sugar and/or creamer, which contains 10 grams of sugar for just half an ounce! This can be helpful if you're in the process of losing weight.
We know that cinnamon may help control blood sugar levels, especially in people with type 2 diabetes. Even just 1 gram of cinnamon, about half a teaspoon of cinnamon, consumed daily has been shown to have beneficial effects. Just add a dash of cinnamon to your coffee or sprinkle it on top of a cappuccino.
While all of this is awesome, I wanted to know more about adding cinnamon to other recipes. What are the “rules” of swapping cinnamon and other spices for sugar?
I posed this question to Jackie Newgent, RDN, a chef, fellow registered dietitian nutritionist in New York City, and author of 1,000 Low-Calorie Recipes. Her answer: When you swap in cinnamon or vanilla, you can potentially cut sugar in recipes by up to 25%.
I also talked cinnamon with Joanna Mouming, food and flavorings research and development manager for Frontier Co-op, a brand that produces a vast array of cinnamon and other spice offerings.
She told me the exact amount of cinnamon that you should swap depends on what you’re whipping up (i.e., the amount will be different for a brownie recipe versus a simple iced coffee concoction).
“Experiment with adding cinnamon and decreasing the sugar level depending on what you are cooking and eating,” she advises.
It's fun to try different types of cinnamon, such as Ceylon cinnamon, aka “true cinnamon,” which has a mild citrus flavor and hails from Sri Lanka.
If you’re looking for a sweeter cinnamon, try the Vietnamese variety, which is more intense and works especially well in recipes such as apple pie. “Gourmet cooks rate it as the highest quality cinnamon in the world,” says Mouming.
Other spices in your kitchen will work well for adding sweetness, too: Try nutmeg, allspice, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla beans or extract, cardamom, anise seeds, or fennel seeds. Cloves can also work, but you should use these sparingly, as they have a very strong flavor.
Here are a few cinnamons you're sure to enjoy:
A List of Seasonings You'll Also Love
When it comes to natural spices and herbs that are good for your health, the list goes on and on...and on. Here are a handful of must have herbs and spices for any kitchen. Add them to your balanced diet meals, stat!
Savory Spices and Herbs
I love cooking with oregano. It’s great in anything Italian—I always add it to my eggplant Parmesan!
Try it: McCormick Oregano Leaves
It would be hard to whip up anything Italian without basil! It’s also great for adding to an egg Panini or frittata.
Try it: Amazon Happy Belly Basil Leaves
Try it: Spice Appeal Rosemary
You can technically make your own Italian seasoning by combining red pepper flakes, oregano, basil, rosemary, onion flakes, and garlic powder. But it’s easier to have the pre-made spice on hand.
Try it: Simply Organic Italian Seasoning
This is another Italian cooking must have! It works great in pasta dishes.
Try it: McCormick Parsley Flakes
Here's a staple in my kitchen for everything from pasta dishes to stir-fries. You get a lot of concentrated flavor, and it’s especially fantastic for when you don’t have fresh garlic on hand.
Try it: Badia Garlic Powder
I use this in a similar way that I use garlic powder. I love to add it to Italian sauces and pasta dishes.
Try it: Iberia Onion Powder
Here's a fantastic spice that adds a kick to anything from a yogurt parfait to a stir-fry. Ginger also improves digestion, if you have a tummy ache. Plus, it's great mixed into fruit juices.
Try it: The Spice Way Ground Ginger
Not everyone is a fan of cilantro, but it’s great to have on hand for making tacos or salsa. I prefer the fresh version, but the dried version is good to have on hand in a pinch.
Try it: Simply Organic Cilantro
This has been a staple in my kitchen after visiting Hungary. I love topping a cheese quiche with it, and it’s also tasty sprinkled on top of avocado deviled eggs or macaroni and cheese.
Try it: Amazon Happy Belly Paprika
This is another favorite spice. It adds a nice oomph to egg dishes!
Try it: Litehouse Freeze Dried Dill
This pick spices up almost any dish, from ones you’d normally associate with it like salad and pasta to even a savory yogurt parfait.
I like to keep a few varieties of salt on hand. At the very least, I’d recommend having an iodized salt on hand for recipes and also freshly ground salt for salting dishes. Use salt in the obvious ways but also to bring out the sweetness in foods like watermelon and dark chocolate.
Try it: Morton Iodized Salt
Everything Bagel Seasoning
I wouldn’t say this one is a requirement, but it’s one of my favorite seasoning blends for jazzing up hardboiled eggs and hummus toast.
Sweet Spices and Herbs
This one gets a lot of use in my kitchen. I love adding a sprinkle to blackberries, and it’s also great to add some sweetness to foods like yogurt. It’s also so tasty in overnight oats.
Try it: Amazon Happy Belly Nutmeg
Try it: McCormick Gourmet Cloves
Pumpkin Pie Spice
Talk about delicious spice mixes. You can make your own with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves, but having the store bought mix on hand makes everything easier! You can use this in the same way that you’d add cinnamon to yogurt or a smoothie, or you can sweeten you own pumpkin puree without the added sugar.
Try it: Trader Joe's Pumpkin Pie Spice
This is a favorite in my kitchen because it adds sweetness to dishes while decreasing the need for added sugar. Use it in everything from cake to an edamame smoothie to energy bites. Vanilla bean is great, too.
Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
While not technically a spice, this sits in my spice cabinet. Like vanilla, it adds amazing sweetness to dishes and sometimes altogether cuts out the need for added sugar. I use it in a vegan chocolate pudding, and a mochaccino smoothie. You can also sprinkle it on top of yogurt.
Try it: Navitas Organics Cacao Powder
I prefer fresh mint, but having the dried version on hand in a pinch is a good idea for adding to desserts like nice cream or even a smoothie.
Try it: Spice Hunter Spices Mint
Amy's Spiced Recipe to Try
Here's a recipe you'll love: Creamy Carrot Cauliflower Soup!
When you snuggle under a blanket with this ultra-creamy, fiber-packed dish, you'll warm up and get a hefty dose of health benefits, all in one bowl.
Unlike other cauliflower soups that are definitely not welcome to Guy Fieri's Flavortown, this version stars yummy cinnamon and turmeric.
Don't be afraid to lick the bowl clean after tasting this recipe (no judgement here). By the way, my spice muffins are another fave cold-weather food!
This blog post was updated in July 2020. A version of this content originally appeared on WeightWatchers.com.
- Is Turmeric Good for You?,
- 23 Brain-Boosting Foods That May Keep You Sharp,
- The Association of Hot Red Chili Pepper Consumption and Mortality: A Large Population-Based Cohort Study, PLOS One
- Jackie Newgent, RDN, a chef, fellow registered dietitian nutritionist in New York City, and author of 1,000 Low-Calorie Recipes
- Joanna Mouming, food and flavorings research and development manager for Frontier Co-op
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I'd love to hear from you! Let me know if you try this seasoning mix! Do you cook with turmeric or get a daily turmeric dose?
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