Whereas some people think spices are just for adding flavour to our food, in some cultures, religions and countries, spices are a staple serving.
Mostly used in sauces, spices for some people can also be added in drinks like tea.
Health experts say that spices are more than just flavours as they have numerous health benefits such as preventing blindness as one ages and boosting fertility.
According to Venuste Muhamyankaka, the president of Rwanda Nutritionists Society, some spices on our markets are unhealthy although others are healthy, especially those from plants.
He says most spices like pepper, turmeric, garlic, cayenne, ginger, rosemary, cinnamon and oregano, among others, have a range of nutrients including vitamins A and K, iron, manganese, as well as salts.
“Others are rich in micro-nutrients and acids that prevent one from cardiovascular diseases and other deficiencies,” he added.
However, Muhamyankaka cautions that the process of cooking done in most households and how they use spices could lead to loss of these nutrients or over usage.
“Usually, the food going to be spiced has no problem. But the process of cooking and the amount of spices used could lead to loss of nutrients and also cause metabolic diseases in the long-run,” he says.
Eric Musengimana, a nutritionist at Rwanda Diabetes Association, says spices can be found in different plant parts like seeds, roots, leaves, fruits or even in powder.
He says spices such as rosemary are highly recommended antimicrobial and antifungal tools for the body.
Musengimana also adds that such a spice promotes healthy digestion and helps in improving one’s memory.
“Different types of spices come with different health benefits depending on their nutrient composition,” says Musengimana.
In addition, Muhamyankakana says people should always check on the packages of these spices to know the ingredients and usage before purchasing or using them when cooking.
“People are usually advised to know their health status since someone’s body might not favour using certain spices. Also, checking the ingredients contained in a particular product will help one know if the spice is healthy and unhealthy,” he says.
Muhamyankaka also advises that spices should be used sparingly depending on who is going to eat the food as our bodies might need a particular amount of intake for different nutrients on a daily basis.
For example with children, he emphasises that if attention is not paid to the amount, excessive spicing could be dangerous, even leading to death such as too much pepper intake.
Experts also say that spices like ginger are anti-inflammatory. They ease muscle soreness, can help settle stomach disorders, reduce nausea and may help control the extent of certain cancers.
For many spices including maggi and cinnamon, Musengimana says these are rich in iron which prevents one from anaemia.
“Cinnamon has been found to significantly reduce blood sugar levels and is said to have a high level of antioxidants. It also contains calcium and reduces inflammation,” he says.
“Oregano contains vitamin K, which is vital to health as it helps in blood clotting, may help lower bad cholesterol and rise the good one,” according to medics.
Spices like garlic and cayenne are helpful in prevention of common colds, are anti-bacterial, can increase blood circulation and may help with weight loss by suppressing appetite.
Musengimana adds that apart from exercising and cutting back on processed foods, eating spicy food could be one of the easiest ways to speed up weight loss.
Recommending hot pepper, he says that when it is eaten, it increases one’s body heat, which boosts an individual’s metabolism and at the same time increases fat burning.
“Hot pepper body promotes the stimulation of brown fat, which aids in metabolism,” Musengimana explains.
He also notes that spiced food can help one lose excess body weight since it has been found to help control food cravings.