Move over, salt and pepper (and sugar, for that matter). These spices not only add punch to your meals, they have potent healing effects. With their natural anti-inflammatory abilities, you never have to go easy on them. Spices, the aromatic, pungent plant substances derived from bark, berries, roots, and seeds contain even more inflammation-fighting polyphenols than herbs. Pinch away. Heck, you may even drop in an entire spoonful here and there.

Curcumin

This potent antioxidant is the active substance in turmeric, the spice that gives Indian curry its bitter, warm flavor and yellow color. It’s been used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for thousands of years. One recent small study in Diabetes Care found taking curcumin capsules may reduce diabetes risk. When 240 adults with prediabetes took a placebo or curcumin (six 250-milligram capsules of curcuminoid) daily for nine months, none of those taking curcumin developed diabetes while 19 of the 116 taking the placebo did. As the study was short and small, results are considered preliminary and more study is needed. Researchers believe curcumin fights inflammation, a factor in diabetes. While there’s not enough evidence to take this supplement, certainly reach for the spice rack when whipping up grains and stews.

Cloves

When researchers tested 24 household herbs and spices (which, by the way, they snagged at Wal-Mart) for a Journal of Medicinal Food study headed by James Hargrove, PhD, they found many were high in powerful polyphenols (inflammation-fighting antioxidant compounds). The top-ranking spice? Among all of those measured, ground cloves contained the most potent dose. The good news: As little as one teaspoon of the super-star spice is enough to reap benefits.

Cinnamon

The second most inflammation-zapping spice among the lot was the common spice-rack commodity cinnamon. While research overall is mixed, some has linked cinnamon to anti-inflammatory responses and found that consuming it can lead to blood-sugar dips. One study found that a mere teaspoon a day (think of the possibilities, a shake in your coffee, a spoonful in your morning oatmeal) had significant blood-sugar-lowering effects in people with Type 2 diabetes. In that study, however, participants took cinnamon in capsule form after meals. There’s not enough evidence to support taking cinnamon supplements to lower blood sugar levels, but there’s every reason to hit the spice aisle. Hm, harmful sugar in our already sugar-overloaded diets or healthful cinnamon. Your call. We’re just saying.

How much cinnamon, cloves, and curcumin do You use in your meals?