Spices not only increase the flavour and aroma of the foods we eat, they may also lessen symptoms of arthritis by inhibiting specific pathways that can lead to inflammation. Next time you are in the kitchen, try to incorporate these savory, anti-inflammatory spices.
Garlic has traditionally been used as an antidote for disease. It belongs to the genus allium and contains an anti-inflammatory compound known as diallyl disulphide. Allium vegetables include garlic, onion leeks, chives and scallions.
A long-term study showed that women whose diets were rich in allium vegetables, such as garlic, had lower levels of osteoarthritis. Other studies have shown its effect on reducing inflammation, pain and fatigue associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
How to use it: Garlic can be consumed either raw or cooked. In its raw form, garlic is more pungent, spicy and earthy. Peel and grate fresh garlic over cooked vegetables, soup, salad, pasta or a couple slices of toast. To combat "garlic breath," consume a few drops of freshly squeezed lemon or brush your teeth. Cooked garlic has a mild nutty taste. Add garlic to stews, pasta, mashed potatoes, soup and roasted vegetables.
Tip: Consider roasted garlic and olive oil as a spread on bread instead of butter. Looking for a fulsome meal idea with garlic? Try Chef Vikram Vij's Yogurt and tamarind marinated grilled chicken.
Ginger has been used as folk medicine for centuries. Gingerol is the main anti-inflammatory compound in ginger. It functions similarly to COX-2 inhibitors, which are drugs used to treat joint pain and inflammation. Some studies have linked ginger to decreased joint pain and disability in people with osteoarthritis.
How to use it: Ginger has an unmistakable sharp and aromatic flavour. It elevates any dish when added. It can be challenging to use due to its stringy texture, however. A simple way to prevent this and ensure your ginger stays fresh is to freeze the ginger root. This allows you to grate the ginger easily into a variety of dishes including stews, rice, fruit sauces, muffins and more.
Tip: Add a piece of ginger to your fruit smoothie for a delicious, aromatic and anti-inflammatory boost, like in our Ginger blueberry smoothie.
Once so valuable and rare, cinnamon was often given as gifts to kings. Cinnamon contains chemical compounds known as cinnamaldehyde and cinnamic acid.
These compounds have been associated with reducing joint pain. Research has shown some promising results with cinnamon supplementation in reducing inflammation and oxidative stress.
How to use it: One small study involving women with rheumatoid arthritis showed taking cinnamon powder supplements reduced levels of inflammation. More studies are needed to fully determine the effectiveness of cinnamon and its impact on inflammation. However, there is no harm in generously using this spice to flavour food.
Tip: Create a savoury Moroccan-inspired dish by adding cinnamon along with raisins and cashews to couscous or rice, or try our delicious Cinnamon power waffles.
Best known for its vibrant rich yellow colour, turmeric is a spice commonly used in Indian cuisine. It has a long history of being used as medicine in Chinese and Indian cultures as well. Turmeric contains a compound known as curcumin. This compound gives turmeric its bright yellow colour and is also associated with lowering inflammation and easing osteoarthritis pain.
How to use it: One study suggested curcumin supplementation was almost as effective as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) in reducing osteoarthritis pain. Another study showed curcumin played a role in preventing bone breakdown in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Reports show that curcumin should be paired alongside black pepper. The active compound in pepper, piperine, can increase the absorption of curcumin.
More research is needed to determine the safety and effectiveness of curcumin supplementation. Gastrointestinal problems have also been associated with long-term use, so use it mindfully.
Tip: Whisk turmeric and black pepper into your favourite salad dressing and drizzle onto your roasted vegetables or salad, or try our Turmeric-infused beef and barley soup.
Written by Lalitha Taylor, registered dietitian.