Whether or not you endeavour to keep abreast of health news and trends, it is hard to avoid stories of what you should and shouldn’t be eating, or that turmeric will save your life and cure all ails.

It has been hard to know the facts from tall tales, but a new book expounding all the benefits of various spices will launch at the St Alban’s Food & Drink Festival which runs between September 27 and October 7.

Spice Health Heroes by Natasha MacAller, from California, is not just a recipe book but a spice bible explaining simply how we can all use the 30 most common spices that we have in our kitchen cupboards to benefit our health.

The former ballerina, now nicknamed the ‘Dancing Chef’, spent 12 hours day, seven days a week researching the book over a 10 month period.

Natasha retired in her 30s after training since the age of six and performing with Joffrey Ballet in New York City, the Boston Ballet and four years in Phantom of the Opera on Broadway and Los Angeles.

It was her years spent dancing and having to maintain her body that ignited a lifelong fascination with food and its health-affirming benefits.

“There’s a very interesting relationship with food and dance,” Natasha explains. “It became an obsession, that’s what got me inspired to cook. I loved making things.

“I read a lot of medical journals and had to extract a lot of information. Having been a dancer you’re always thinking about injuries and how to treat your muscles, so that always fascinated me.

“Food is a very creative outlet and spice can take a dish from ordinary to extraordinary and all you’ve done is add a bit of this and a dash of that.”

Her first book, Vanilla Table, demonstrates that the pods are universal and can be used for savoury dishes as well as sweet.

Her first book features recipes from 33 chefs from around the world whereas Spice Health Heroes has 21, featuring Jose Andres, April Bloomfield, Peter Gordon, Judy Joo and Lidia Bastianich, as well as words from eight doctors to validate her research.

“That really gives a bit of weight to talking about food and eating well,” she tells me, before adding: “It doesn’t have to be hot spice, anything will add so much flavour.

“It is fascinating and inspiring to read about, like when chocolate is actually good for you if it’s more than 72 per cent cocoa.”

On the day we spoke across the pond it was cold in both countries and Natasha says to me: “I’m thinking about making a tea out of cocoa. There’s a recipe in the book and you just use a French press after toasting the cocoa.”

It sounds delicious, but does she ever indulge in an unhealthy treat lacking in spice?

“I do have quite a weakness for donuts,” she admits. “Although what I discovered when studying all these different spices, things that taste sweet to us like nutmeg and cinnamon, they actually have reducing properties for people who have problems with sugar. You get that sweetness in your tongue without getting any in your body.

After all her research and cooking prowess, I wondered if she had her heart set on a favourite spice.

“Oh gosh there’s so many,” she exclaims, evidently overwhelmed at the thought of choosing just one. Finally she (almost) chooses: “One of my favourites is cardamom. I love it. It has a sweet hint but is also sharp and it’s a bit smoky and it’s really good for you.

“And cinnamon,” she quickly adds. “It’s beautiful and can be used in so many different ways. You’d be astonished at what you can do with spices.

“I want to show people they don’t have to be intimidated by making things. It’s really simple, there are complicated recipes in the book but for the most part it’s simple.”

Natasha will be at Waterstones in St Albans on September 28, 7.30pm.

For more info on St Alban’s Food & Drink Festival, which returns for the 10th year between September 27 and October 7, visit radioverulam.com/festival