Spices and herbs add flavor and life to your meals. Now they have become the center of attention in research circles with new studies being published trumpeting their health benefits.
Health-conscious chefs and nutritionists have long recommended including spices and herbs in dishes to add flavor without the fat, salt or sugar. Many of the familiar culinary spices and herbs are very concentrated in antioxidants. For example, one teaspoon of ground cinnamon has the equivalent level of antioxidants as a half cup of blueberries and one cup of pomegranate juice.
Spices and herbs are also packed with vitamins and minerals. Basil and parsley, for instance, have high levels of vitamin C and folate while paprika and chilli are rich in beta-carotene which is converted to vitamin A in the body.
Which spices are the healthiest, tastiest and simplest to add to your foods? Here are a few that are particularly noteworthy. These were chosen because of their extremely high antioxidant score with sound research behind them. In addition, these seven are the easiest to consume in higher than normal quantities which is important if you want to get a clinical benefit.
One of the world’s most popular spices, cinnamon comes from a cinnamon tree’s dried brown bark, which is then rolled into a tube or ground. There are more than 100 varieties of this fragrant, somewhat sweet spice. Cinnamon contains manganese, dietary fiber and iron — all typically lacking in our diets. Two teaspoons have about 12 calories.
– Anti-clotting Action: Helps prevent unwanted clumping of blood platelets.
– Anti-microbial Activity: Stops growth of bacteria as well as fungi, including the yeast Candida and pathogenic Bacillus cereus.
– Blood Sugar Control: In December 2003, a study appearing in the journal “Diabetes Care” suggested that 1-6 grams of cinnamon a day significantly reduce blood-sugar levels in patients with type-2 diabetes. In addition, the study showed that cinnamon reduced triglyceride, LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol levels. A number of studies suggest that as little as half a teaspoon a day can help individuals with non-insulin dependent (type-2) diabetes improve their response to insulin. And another recent study suggests that taking cinnamon may stabilize blood sugar even when eating foods high in sugar.
– Antioxidant Activity: Cinnamon is one of the spices highest in anti-aging antioxidants. One Norwegian study in the “Journal of Nutrition” indicates that it may be among the highest in antioxidants in the spice category.
– Brain-Boosting Function: May improve cognitive processing.
This anti-bacterial herb which has one of the highest antioxidant counts of all herbs. One teaspoon has as much antioxidant power as three cups of chopped broccoli (but don’t ditch the broccoli – have both!
Sliced tomatoes become exceptionally pretty and tasty with a sprinkle of oregano, a grind of pepper and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
This bright yellow spice is commonly found in curry powder. Turmeric tops the list of all spices when it comes to health benefits. It contains high concentrations of the potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory curcumin, which has been said to inhibit tumor growth and help treat rheumatoid arthritis and cystic fibrosis. In addition, curcumin has been associated with reduced risk of childhood leukemia, improved liver function and even protection against Alzheimer’s disease.
Turmeric contains calcium, magnesium, dietary fiber, vitamin B6, iron, potassium and manganese. Two teaspoons have 16 calories.
– Antioxidant: High levels of curcumin, the yellow pigment in turmeric, inhibit cancer cell growth. It has been studied more than many other spices and has been shown to slow the growth of prostate cancer cells as well as prevent the activation of genes that cause cancer. “We found that curcumin shuts off the master switch which controls tumorigenesis [tumor growth]. Our studies indicate that curcumin works against skin cancer and against breast cancer metastasis,” says Bharat B. Aggarwal, Ph.D., a professor of cancer medicine at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.
– Anti-inflammatory: Apparently the antioxidants contained in turmeric fight the free radicals responsible for joint inflammation and damage.
– Alzheimer’s Disease: Recent research conducted at UCLA indicates that eating foods with low doses of curcumin slashed the accumulation of Alzheimer’s-like plaque in the brains of mice by 50 percent.
Ginger is a good source of potassium. One ounce of ginger root has about 20 calories. It may surprise you but one teaspoon of ginger has similar antioxidant levels as one cup of spinach! And ground ginger can be used in both sweet and savory dishes.
– Gastrointestinal Relief: Certain properties in ginger seem to ease motion sickness as effectively as over-the-counter remedies. It has been shown to inhibit vomiting and gastric ulceration, and its nausea-fighting properties can also be helpful for people who are suffering the side effects of chemotherapy.
– Anti-inflammatory: Inflammation is believed to be a contributing factor in cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and arthritis. Gingerols, compounds found in ginger, are said to thin the blood and help reduce pain like aspirin does. Research at the University of Miami has demonstrated that patients with osteoarthritis of the knee who took ginger had less pain than those who didn’t.
– Antioxidant: According to a report in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,” ginger has been identified in several studies as one of the plants with the highest antioxidant content.
It is a traditional cough remedy, an antiseptic and anti-inflammatory.
This milder version of chili is rich in beta-carotene. It is showing promise for enhancing metabolism, increasing satiety and potentially stimulating fat burning
One of the Big Three Mediterranean herbs that may help slow aging. It helps to reduce inflammation in the body that might be a trigger and indirect risk factor for many chronic diseases.
You don’t have to consume herbs fresh. Dried herbs have one big advantage they rank higher than fresh for antioxidants as drying removes water and so concentrates the “goodies”.