Health Benefits of Spices and Herbs: 5 Reasons to Add More of Them to Your Diet

Discover the Health Benefits of Spices and Herbs

Do you eat your food bland? If so, you’re missing out on the incredible health benefits of spices and herbs. Herbs and spices can really kick up the flavor of your food and make a meal more satisfying. Just as important are the many health benefits that spices and herbs offer. Need convincing? Here are five reasons to add more spice to your life.

They’re an Antioxidant Power Source

Fruits and veggies are antioxidant superheroes, but if that’s the case, some spices assume deity status. Some herbs and spices pack more antioxidant punch than fruits and vegetables. Spices like cloves, cinnamon, oregano and turmeric hit it out of the ball park in terms of antioxidant power. Plus, they have additional health benefits as well. For example, cinnamon helps to lower blood sugar levels and curcumin in turmeric stymies the growth of cancer cells and reduces inflammation. So when you sprinkle spices on your vegetables, you’re getting double the health benefits. Don’t like the flavor of vegetables? The right spice blend kicks up the flavor of a ho-hum plate of vegetables.

They Have Anti-Microbial Power

Some herbs and spices have natural anti-microbial activity by blocking the growth of bacteria. That may be one reason people started using spices in the first place – as a natural way to preserve food. Spices with known anti-microbial activity include black cumin, clove, cinnamon and garlic. Oregano, a favorite for Italian food, helps to fight infection another way by boosting immunity, according to some research.

They Reduce HCAs in Grilled Foods

HCAs, also known as heterocylic amines, form when meat is grilled to a high temperature. That’s a problem since HCAs have been linked with cancer. The two best ways to reduce HCAs when you grill is to marinate the meat in an acidic marinade that contains certain spices. Spices like rosemary, turmeric and ginger reduce the amount of HCAs formed when you grill meat. It’s one of the simplest and tastiest ways to reduce the health risks of eating grilled meat.

They Help You Cut Back on Salt

Most people get far more salt in their diet than they should. One way to cut back is to flavor your food with salt-free herbs and spices instead of salt. Spices with a little more “kick” like ginger, garlic, paprika, cayenne pepper and black pepper work well. Go heavier on the spices and you’ll never miss the salt.

Can They Help You Lose Weight?

Some people eat less when they season their food with stronger sources like cayenne pepper, garlic, ginger or wasabi. In that case, adding more spice to your food may help you eat less, although research is unclear on this. The capsaicin in chili peppers seems to have the most appetite-suppressing effect, and some studies show it temporarily boosts metabolism so you may burn more calories for a short period afterwards. Whether that’s enough to cause significant fat loss is unclear.

The Bottom Line?

Tap into the flavor and health benefits of herbs and spices by adding more of them to your recipes or sprinkle them on your food just before eating. To maximize their flavor and shelf life, buy spices whole and grind your own at home using a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder. If you’re really industrious, you can grow herbs in small pots you place on the windowsill and have fresh herbs year round. Enjoy the many health benefits of spices and herbs!

Need some inspiration? Here’s a short video that’ll teach you creative ways to use herbs and spices:


 

 

References:

Current Medicinal Chemistry, 2004, 11, 1451-1460.

Eur J Nutr. 2009 Jun;48(4):229-34.

J Proteome Res. 2010 Jun 4;9(6):2977-87.

Diabetes Self-Management. January/February 2009. Page 14-16.

Kristie Leong M.D.

Dr. Kristie Leong and Dr. Apollo Leong are physicians helping you to lead a healthy lifestyle by sharing nutrition and fitness tips and keeping you abreast of the latest health news.

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