Spice Up Your Plate

Health-conscious college students are always looking for ways to optimize flavor while still eating healthy. An affordable and easy way to change up a boring college meal is by adding spices. Herbs and spices are low in calories, relatively inexpensive, and packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory power. Foods high in antioxidants play a strong role in preventing cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Whether you have a drawer of spices that you don’t know how to use, or you are overwhelmed by the large selection of spices at the supermarket, don’t let these obstacles keep you from experimenting with flavor combinations. Check out these common spices that are easy to use and full of health benefits.


  • Benefits: Basil is one of the most popular herbs and is full of healthy phytonutrients. The compounds in basil have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial power. Exceptional levels of Vitamin A and beta-carotene from basil can benefit your skin, a concern for many college students. Basil leaves are also surprisingly an excellent source of iron. If you happen to be on a vegan or vegetarian diet and are struggling to meet your iron needs, try adding some dried basil to your meals.
  • Uses: Soups, sandwiches, pesto, Panini’s, fresh fruit salad garnish, vegetable side dishes, fish dishes, pasta dishes.

Chili Powder

  • Benefits: Chili powder, a spicy seasoning, can help rev up your metabolism. This spice contains capsaicin, which has anti-inflammatory properties as well. Antioxidants in this spice help fight free radicals, strengthen the immune system and heal injuries. The Vitamin A in chili powder helps maintain your eyesight and bone health.
  • Uses: Soups, stews, marinades, dry rubs, chili, enchiladas, tacos, fajitas, Mexican dishes.


  • Benefits: Using cinnamon during the winter months is great because it can really warm up a dish and add nice flavor. Cinnamon has very high antioxidant strength and a sweet aromatic scent. Other benefits include its anti-septic and anti-inflammatory qualities. This spice contains good amounts of niacin, Vitamin A and pantothenic acid. Cinnamon has been shown to help lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels in some studies, but more research is needed. Don’t just limit your cinnamon usage to desserts; cinnamon can be great in entrees as well.
  • Uses: Baked goods, hot chocolate, Moroccan stews and dishes, Indian chicken and rice dishes.


  • Benefits: Cumin, a seed of a small plant in the parsley family, contains several phytochemicals full of antioxidant power. This exotic spice is a source of dietary fiber, and minerals including iron and manganese. Cumin promotes a healthy digestive system and is widely used in Middle Eastern and Indian cooking. Invite some friends over for a themed dinner and use cumin to spice things up.
  • Uses: Taco and fajita seasoning, chili, Mexican dishes, Indian cuisine, soups, barbecue sauces.


  • Benefits: Oregano is a warm herb commonly used in Italian, Greek and Spanish cuisine. You can find it in most Italian seasonings, as it pairs well with meat and vegetable dishes. Oregano contains compounds that are both anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory. The dried oregano spice is a rich source of dietary fiber and in some studies was shown to help control cholesterol levels.
  • Uses: Mediterranean dishes, Mexican cuisine, chicken and meat dishes, fish dishes, soups, stews, omelets, sauces, fruit salad garnish.


  • Benefits: Rosemary, from the mint family, has a warm scent and is rich in potassium, calcium, and iron. Dried rosemary is very easy to use and contains antioxidants that have substantial anti-inflammatory and anti-septic powers. Additionally, this spice may help improve memory and fight against cancer.
  • Uses: Herbed breads, sautéed potatoes, salads, soups, fish marinades, baked vegetables, meat dishes.


  • Benefits: Originally found in northern Europe and Mediterranean regions, thyme has many disease preventing and health promoting properties. This herb is packed with Vitamin C, Vitamin A, iron and many other vitamins and minerals. Thyme also has skin-saving power, and is a great addition to any spice cabinet.
  • Uses: Soups, sauces, chicken and meat marinades.


Use these delicious spices as much as possible, and season your food liberally. Create a spice cabinet in your apartment that makes them readily available and appealing. First try a small container of each spice, and then see which spices you use the most. Once you figure out which ones are your favorites, you can buy in bulk and refill the original small glass spice jars. Take advantage of these inexpensive flavor-boosters that can change up your meal routine and make preparing dinner much more enjoyable.


Photo Credit: Laura Asbury

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