Food can be a powerful medicine when you use it in the right way. It is vital to watch your diet and pay particular attention to the overall category and nutritional quality, like vitamins and minerals, of the foods you eat. It isn’t just whether a food is a carbohydrate or a protein that matters, but also what the spices you choose to flavor it bring to the table.
One spice that can be beneficial is cardamom powder. So, what is cardamom used for, and what are some ways you can add it to your diet? We’ve got all the answers here at Healthy Directions.
A Brief Background On Cardamom
People often aren’t as familiar with cardamom as with other spices that have made their way into the Western diet. While the spice originated in Southern India, the majority of commercially grown cardamom now comes from Guatemala.
The taste can be challenging to describe to those who haven’t tried it before. It has an intense but still slightly sweet floral flavor, one that has been compared to mint. However, cardamom is actually in the ginger family. Once harvested, the pods can be used whole or ground up and used as a powder.
There are two types of spice seen in stores — black cardamom and green cardamom.
Black cardamom, or Amomum subulatum, has large, dark brown pods commonly used in southern Indian cuisine. Green cardamom pods, or Elettaria cardamom, are smaller and often used in Middle Eastern cuisine. This type is also called “true” cardamom and is found in most traditional grocery stores.
In general, cardamom is considered one of the most expensive spices in the world. The cost is related to the labor needed to harvest the spice.
As for nutritional content, a tablespoon of ground cardamom (either black or green) contains about 18 calories, four grams of carbohydrates, and less than a gram of protein or fat. It also has just under two grams of fiber and 80% of the daily recommended manganese intake.
The Potential Medicinal Properties of Cardamom
So, what is cardamom used for regarding its medicinal value? When we discuss using cardamom to help make a difference in your health, we’re talking about using multiple parts of the spice.
Primarily, this refers to its extracts, oils, and seeds, which alternative medicine practitioners have used for centuries.
Helps With Digestion
The use of cardamom for digestive issues goes back for thousands of years. Researchers consider the spice to be gut modulatory, meaning that it can help control the reaction of at least part of the GI system to certain stimuli.
Some of these reactions include nausea, vomiting, and GI discomfort, all common complaints related to gut health. Cardamom may also help heal stomach ulcers, a painful condition often triggered by a bacteria known as Helicobacter pylori (or H. pylori for short).
May Help With Hypertension
Hypertension, the medical term for high blood pressure, is one of the most commonly diagnosed conditions worldwide. Because it is an issue that so many people suffer from, there is also a lot of pressure to help manage it. Often this comes down to prescription medication and self-monitoring.
However, other potential supplements to medical treatment may also show potential. Cardamom is one of these alternatives. Researchers believe this is related to two factors — its high antioxidant count and its function as a diuretic.
Studies have only been on rats, so human trials are necessary to discern any true positive implications on hypertension in humans.
Can Potentially Help Lower Blood Sugar
Although the science is still developing, cardamom has also shown potential at helping to lower blood sugar levels in rats. However, because these studies have only been performed with rats, cardamom’s impact on humans with diabetes (especially with type 2 diabetes) has not yet been seen.
However, with more human studies, this may be a potentially significant breakthrough.
The reason cardamom may help manage blood sugar can be traced to its high manganese content, which is a trace mineral found naturally in foods like leafy green vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains.
Blood studies have shown that people with diabetes tend to have lower levels of manganese than non-diabetics, although which causes which is not yet proven. In addition, manganese can also help reduce the amount of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) present in the blood, which can have a cardioprotective effect.
Treats Bad Breath
One of the oldest ways to use cardamom for health is as a potential treatment and preventative for bad breath (also known as halitosis). In fact, in some cultures, it’s normal to eat whole pods of cardamom after a meal to boost oral health.
The spice can be so effective that it even made its way into at least one popular chewing gum brand. Cardamom’s ability to help banish bad breath is likely tied to its ability to fight off some of the more common types of bacteria in the mouth. But the benefits don’t stop there.
Cardamom can also help decrease the risk of developing cavities due to those same bacteria.
How To Use Cardamom
Due to cardamom’s flexibility, you can use spice in both sweet and savory recipes. For example, cardamom is an essential component of curries and chai tea, two recipes with vastly different flavor profiles.
One of our favorite ways to use cardamom is in a smoothie. Adding just a tiny amount (around ¼ teaspoon) added to other healthy ingredients can be both delicious and beneficial.
If you need some inspiration, you can try our Modified-Paleo Almond Chai Smoothie, which combines cardamom with cinnamon, ginger, and chia seeds. You can also throw in a scoop of vanilla protein powder for an extra boost.
Savory dishes are also an excellent vehicle for cardamom to shine.
Add it to your rice, a stew, or a protein like chicken or salmon—the spice pairs well with other savory spices like cumin, black pepper, and coriander.
Are There Any Potential Side Effects?
As with most spices, there are very few side effects associated with using cardamom in your diet. However, the caveat is that there is very little research related to using the spice in larger quantities. In rare cases, cardamom may trigger a gallbladder attack.
It’s also best to avoid ingesting large quantities of cardamom if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, as there are no studies on its use or safety.
Incorporating any new foods or spices into the diet may also cause an allergic reaction, so use caution and seek medical attention if any symptoms of a reaction occur. These symptoms include shortness of breath, swelling of the face, throat, neck, or hives.
The health benefits of cardamom are far more diverse than most people think. When you pay attention to your diet in a way that allows you to choose foods and spices for more than just taste, you can overhaul your health and wellness like never before.
Whether that involves finding answers to questions like “what is cardamom used for?” for tracking your macronutrients, Healthy Directions is honored to walk with you on your path toward better health.