Spices. Wars have been fought over them. Great explorers have sailed in pursuit of them. And gifting history was made by three wise men bearing them. Turns out that the ancients were on to something. Research is now showing that five spices we've long savored just for their flavor are also nutritional powerhouses. Toss these overachievers into your salad or sauce and get a whopping dose of disease-preventing antioxidants along with a flavorful punch.
- Cinnamon: This natural germ-fighter also helps lower blood sugar, triglycerides, and cholesterol levels -- one-quarter teaspoon a day is a healthy goal. Sprinkle a little of the powder on freshly ground coffee beans when making your morning java, or try these irresistible Cinnamon Baked Apples for a low-cal dessert.
- Thyme: It makes it into recipes for marinades, grilled poultry, and fish by virtue of its minty, lemony flavor; it makes it onto the list of healthy herbs by virtue of its anticancer potency. It's also long been used as an antiseptic -- yep, that could be thyme oil in your mouthwash. If you've got a fresh bunch, mince some into your vinaigrette. Yum.
- Cumin: Concealed in your humble chili powder is one of the world's most popular spices (it's a key ingredient in Indian curries, too) and another anticancer soldier. Go exotic and add cumin to rice, grain salads, and marinades.
- Oregano: Thank our GIs for bringing oregano home from Italy after WWII. A food-world superpower, leaves of the herb boast 42 times more antioxidants than apples. Wow! Use oregano to add a delicate flavor to salad dressings, garlic bread, and omelets, as well as your favorite pastas.
- Turmeric: Called the "Queen of the Kitchen" by Indian cooks, turmeric (and its active ingredient, curcumin) has earned its crown. Studies show promise in fighting cystic fibrosis, colon cancer, arthritis, and even Alzheimer's -- is there anything this golden gal can't do? For an earthy flavor and yellow coloring, add a pinch of turmeric to rice, stew, or lentils -- hey, it might even help you remember where you left your keys last night.