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How much spice is enough for reaping the benefits?

Our Top 5 Spices: How Much Is Enough For Benefits?

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A spoonful of pepper makes the… Hang on, no, that’s not right…

We know that spices are the spice of life, and many have great health-giving qualities. But…

  1. How much is the right amount?
  2. What’s the minimum to get health benefits?
  3. What’s the maximum to avoid toxicity?

That last one always seems like a scary question, but please bear in mind: everything is toxic at a certain dose. Oxygen, water, you-name-it.

On the other hand, many things have a toxicity so low that one could not physically consume it sufficiently faster than the body eliminates it, to get a toxic build-up.

Consider, for example, the €50 banknote that was nearly withdrawn from circulation because one of the dyes used in it was found to be toxic. However, the note remained in circulation after scientists patiently explained that a person would have to eat many thousands of them to get a lethal dose.

So, let’s address these questions in reverse order:

What’s the maximum to avoid toxicity?

In the case of the spices we’ll look at today, the human body generally* has high tolerance for them if eaten at levels that we find comfortable eating.

*IMPORTANT NOTE: If you have (or may have) a medical condition that may be triggered by spices, go easier on them (or if appropriate, abstain completely) after you learn about that.

Check with your own physician if unsure, because not only are we not doctors, we’re specifically not your doctors, and cannot offer personalized health advice.

We’re going to be talking in averages and generalizations here. Caveat consumator.

For most people, unless you are taking the spice in such quantities that you are folding space and seeing the future, or eating them as the main constituents of your meal rather than an embellishment, you should be fine. Please don’t enter a chilli-eating contest and sue us.

What is the minimum to get health benefits and how much should we eat?

The science of physiology generally involves continuous rather than discrete data, so there’s not so much a hard threshold, as a point at which the benefits become significant. The usefulness of most nutrients we consume, be they macro- or micro-, will tend to have a bell curve.

In other words, a tiny amount won’t do much, the right amount will have a good result, and usefulness will tail off after that point. To that end, we’re going to look at the “sweet spot” of peaking on the graph.

Also note: the clinical dose is the dose of the compound, not the amount of the food that one will need to eat to get that dose. For example, food x containing compound y will not usually contain that compound at 100% rate and nothing else. We mention this so that you’re not surprised when we say “the recommended dose is 5mg of compound, so take a teaspoon of this spice”, for example.

Further note: we only have so much room here, so we’re going to list only the top benefits, and not delve into the science of them. You can see the related main features for more details, though!

The “big 5” health-giving spices, with their relevant active compound:

  • Black pepper (piperine)
  • Hot pepper* (capsaicin)
  • Garlic (allicin)
  • Ginger (gingerol)
  • Turmeric (curcumin**)

*Cayenne pepper is very high in capsaicin; chilli peppers are also great

**not the same thing as cumin, which is a completely different plant. Cumin does have some health benefits of its own, but not in the same league as the spices above, and there’s only so much we have room to cover today.

Black pepper

  • Benefits: antioxidant, anti-cancer, boosts bioavailability of other nutrients, aids digestion
  • Dosage: 5–20mg for benefits
  • Suggestion: ½ teaspoon of black pepper is sufficient for benefits. However, this writer’s kitchen dictum in this case is “if you can’t see the black pepper in/on the food, add more”—but that’s more about taste!
  • Related main feature: Black Pepper’s Anti-Cancer Arsenal (And More)

Hot Pepper

Garlic

  • Benefits: heart health, blood sugar balancing, anti-cancer
  • Dosage: 4–8µg for benefits
  • Suggestion: 1–2 cloves daily is generally good. However, cooking reduces allicin content (and so does oxidation after cutting/crushing), so you may want to adjust accordingly if doing those things.
  • Related main feature: The Many Health Benefits Of Garlic

Ginger

  • Benefits: anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-nausea
  • Dosage: 3–4g for benefits
  • Suggestion: 1 teaspoon grated raw ginger or ½ a teaspoon powdered ginger, can be used in baking or as part of the seasoning for a stir-fry
  • Related main feature: Ginger Does A Lot More Than You Think

Turmeric

Closing notes

The above five spices are very healthful for most people. Personal physiology can and will vary, so if in doubt, a) check with your doctor b) start at lowest doses and establish your tolerance (or lack thereof).

Enjoy, and stay well!

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