Every time you flavor your meals with herbs or spices you are supercharging your food without adding a single calorie. You can transform something ordinary and bland into something truly extraordinary tasting and good for your body, just by generously adding herbs and spices to your meals.
Did you know that certain herbs and spices contain a wide variety of some of the most potent antioxidants of any food? In fact, many herbs and spices rank even higher in antioxidant activity than many fruits and vegetables, with some spices such as cloves, turmeric, and cinnamon having as much as 10-50x more antioxidants measured by ORAC value (on a weight to weight comparison) compared to blueberries.
The benefits of the antioxidants in spices include some very powerful protection against many serious diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s, and overall aging.
Herbs and spices add tons of extra flavor, and when combined with the nutrition in other foods, they actually exponentially boost the natural antioxidants, phytonutrients, and anti-inflammatory power of the food.
Besides the super antioxidants, herbs and spices can also:
- Aid Fat Burning and Boost Metabolism – many herbs and spices are thermogenic, which means they naturally help to increase metabolism, partly because they are so nutrient-dense.
- Help Stabilize Blood Sugar – Some spices are also good at regulating blood sugar and controlling insulin–even as good as some diabetic drugs! When your blood sugar is well controlled, you are more likely to burn fat and not store calories as excess weight.
- Powerful Anti-Inflammatory Properties –Scientific studies show that herbs and spices can actually work as well or better than some medications at calming inflammation without the negative side effects of isolated drugs.
- Anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal – Many herbs and spices contain properties that effectively kill dangerous pathogens like viruses, bacteria and stubborn fungi. The natural properties in these foods work against many microbes that are resistant to conventional medications.
Here are 10 of the most potent superfood herbs and spices you can eat:
1. Basil – Basil is a very effective anti-inflammatory herb with extraordinary healing benefits that work for arthritis, allergies, and inflammatory bowel conditions, to name a just a few. In addition, basil helps kill harmful bacteria that cause food poisoning including: Listeria, Staph, and E. coli O:157:H7.
Basil is also an excellent source of beta carotene, a powerful antioxidant that prevents free radical damage. Free radical damage is the primary cause of heart disease, cancer, and many other serious health conditions, as well as aging. Because of its dark green color, it is an excellent source of vitamin K, calcium and magnesium, which is good for the bones. It is also a great source of iron, manganese, vitamin C and potassium. Use both fresh basil and dried basil generously in your foods to maximize it’s benefits.
2. Cinnamon – This ancient spice has one of the highest antioxidant levels of any spice.
Cinnamon is highly effective at helping to stabilize blood sugar levels, making it very effective for those with diabetes (type 1 and type 2). In one study of people with type 2 diabetes, just two teaspoons a day reduced blood sugar as much as 20-30%, as well as lowering LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Cinnamon also has powerful anti-inflammatory properties, and helps relieve pain and stiffness in muscles and joints, including arthritis. Cinnamon has a positive effect on brain function, and smelling cinnamon, or chewing cinnamon flavored gum, can possibly help improve memory and attention. Cinnamon also reduces inflammation in blood vessels that leads to atherosclerosis and heart disease, as well as having antifungal and antibacterial properties.
You can read another article we have here about how cinnamon can even help control belly fat in an indirect way.
Try cinnamon in your smoothies, yogurt, healthy baking recipes, oatmeal, mixed with berries, or as a healthy addition in your coffee or tea.
3. Cayenne – This hot spice not only heats up your dishes, it heats up your body and raises your metabolism, helping you burn fat faster. And an interesting research study showed that when a person consumed an appetizer with red pepper flakes, they ate 15% less food. And for those of you who avoid cayenne because you think it bothers your stomach, cayenne pepper is actually healing to stomach tissues, it stimulates digestive enzymes, and helps prevent stomach ulcers.
Cayenne reduces LDL blood cholesterol, triglyceride levels, and decreases the formation of harmful blood clots, all of which prevent heart attacks and strokes. And, cayenne is a very effective anti-inflammatory and pain remedy for everything from headaches to arthritis and sore muscles, as well as clearing nasal congestion and boosting immunity.
Try cayenne in your morning eggs, in soups, stews, chili, or meatloaf for a little metabolism boosting spice!
4. Cloves – Cloves have a unique sweet and spicy flavor, but also contain powerful natural medicine. Cloves have strong antiseptic and germicidal ingredients that help fight infections, relieve digestive problems, and arthritis pain. One of cloves’ best known uses is its ability to relieve tooth and gum pain. Cloves have been measured as having THE highest antioxidant level (ORAC value) of all spices and herbs.
The oil in cloves kills bacteria and is very effective when applied to scrapes, cuts, fungal infections, itchy rashes, bites, burns, or bruises. Cloves also help digestive problems like gas, indigestion, nausea and vomiting, and eliminate harmful parasites, bacteria and fungus in the digestive system. And the smell of cloves helps to encourage mental creativity too.
Cloves can be a great healthy addition to hot teas.
5. Cumin – Cumin is another spice that is especially high in antioxidants, but cumin is known for being especially good for digestion. It stimulates the gallbladder and pancreas to secrete enzymes and bile that break down food into usable nutrients your body can use. Cumin also helps detoxify the body, and is highly effective for respiratory disorders like asthma and bronchitis.
Cumin, like cinnamon, helps keep blood sugar levels stable, which means cumin is great for diabetics or pre-diabetics, and it means less chance of weight gain and excess body fat. Cumin has been proven to work as well as some commonly used diabetic drugs at regulating insulin and glycogen. Cumin is also a very good source of iron, vitamin C and vitamin A, which benefit the immune system.
Cumin goes great in chili!
6. Turmeric – Turmeric’s yellow-orange pigment, curcumin, is the main active ingredient in this super spice. Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory benefits are actually comparable to drugs like hydrocortisone and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines like Advil and Motrin. But, unlike the drugs, curcumin is not toxic at all.
Curcumin is more effective slowing down the development of Alzheimer’s disease than many medications, because it decreases inflammation and oxidation in the brain. This spice also speeds up the recovery time from strokes as well. Turmeric and its active ingredient, curcumin, are also highly effective against diseases like irritable bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s, and arthritis. Turmeric also improves liver function, lowers homocysteine and prevents heart disease.
Most importantly, turmeric is one of the most potent anti-cancer spices that helps protect you. Turmeric and it’s derivatives are currently being studied in alternative cancer treatments.
Try this trick: Using black pepper along with turmeric (I use this combo in my eggs every morning) helps to increase the absorption of turmeric’s curcumin in the body. We also have a full article on the super health benefits of turmeric here.
7. Rosemary – Rosemary contains active ingredients that are potent antioxidants as well as anti-inflammatory agents. Rosemary has long been known to improve concentration, boost memory, and lift depression. Rosemary also strengthens the immune system, improves circulation, stimulates digestion, and fights cancer, as well.
Rosemary is highly effective for respiratory problems including asthma, chest congestion, and respiratory infections. While rosemary adds a delicious savory flavor to meat dishes, it also helps digestion by stimulating the gallbladder to release bile as well. Rosemary will protect your body against harmful carcinogenic toxins and prevents colon cancer, stomach, breast, and lung cancer.
Fun fact: If you’re going to grill meats, marinating meats for hours beforehand in liquid mixtures that contain rosemary and other herbs/spices can dramatically help to reduce HCA’s (heterocyclic amines), which are carcinogenic compounds that can form when meats are grilled. So using rosemary, thyme, garlic, oregano and other spices in a meat marinade before grilling meats can drastically reduce any carcinogens that normally would form on grilled meat.
The antioxidants in rosemary and thyme from a marinade were specifically cited in studies at being powerful inhibitors of HCA formation when grilling meats. But it was also noted that other spices such as garlic, oregano, and others can help to prevent HCA formation as well, so I suggest using a variety, which tastes great anyway!
One more important point about grilling meat: Remember that the more well-done a meat is cooked, the higher concentration of carcinogenic HCA’s can form, so rare, medium-rare, or medium are healthier choices than well-done. I’ve never understood why anybody would want to ruin a good steak by burning it to oblivion anyway. But hey, if you’re one of those folks that likes your steaks well-done, just remember that you’re eating a lot more carcinogens than a steak that’s cooked less, so make sure to load up on your antioxidants (spices, teas, berries, etc) to help combat those extra carcinogens.
Washing down your barbequed meal with a glass of unsweetened iced tea (rich in antioxidants) and also a good salad with lots of raw veggies can provide the antioxidants needed to counteract the effect of HCAs in your body from grilled meat.
By the way, even charring vegetables on the grill creates different carcinogens such as acrylamides, so don’t think that the negative effect of charring only applies to meats.
8. Ginger – Ginger is VERY powerful for your health! Ginger contains over 25 different antioxidants, which makes it extremely effective at fighting free radicals in many different body systems. Ginger is best known for its ability to reduce nausea and vomiting, as well as motion sickness. In fact, ginger may even be more effective than Dramamine, one of the most common drugs used for motion sickness. And because ginger does not have harmful side effects like many drugs, it is very good for nausea from pregnancy. Studies actually show that just 1 gram of ginger before surgery is more effective than the standard anti-nausea medication given for post surgical nausea and vomiting.
Ginger is also a soothing remedy for sore throats from colds and flu because of its antiviral properties. Ginger also helps coughs and is an effective expectorant. Try a tea made with hot water simmered with a few slices of ginger and a small amount of honey and lemon for a soothing tonic when you are sick.
Because ginger is such a strong anti-inflammatory, it helps reduce the pain and swelling of arthritis, and muscle aches. Ginger also fights cancer, reduces cholesterol, and prevents blood clots that lead to strokes or heart disease. I like to use a slice of ginger root in my hot teas sometimes, in our batches of iced teas, and of course, I love piling ginger on top of sushi! I take a couple capsules of ginger daily since it’s not as frequently used in dishes as some other spices.
9. Oregano – This herb contains an oil that is a very potent anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral agent, rosmarinic acid (also found in rosemary). Oregano oil has been used to treat a wide range of conditions from bacterial and viral infections, to parasites and stubborn fungal infections. Although the oil of oregano is most often used for medicinal purposes, the herb itself can provide many of the same benefits when consumed regularly.
Oregano also relieves inflammation, internal or external, and can offer relief from allergies, aches and pain, without side effects. Oregano is very high on the ORAC scale of measured antioxidant value.
10. Thyme — Thyme’s active ingredient is known for treating bronchitis, sore throats, chest congestion, laryngitis and asthma. Thyme is so effective it is often an ingredient in cough drops and mouthwashes to treat inflammation and infections. Thyme is also effective as a soothing stomach aid to relieve gastritis, indigestion and colic.
Thyme helps prevent cancer, improve memory, treat Alzheimer’s, calm the nerves, and alleviate depression, nightmares, and insomnia. An interesting new discovery about thyme shows that it actually boosts the amount of DHA (an important ingredient in omega 3 fatty acids) in the brain, heart and kidney cells.
Here are some other health benefits of some of the most popular herbs and spices:
• Rosemary, turmeric, ginger and basil are powerful anti-inflammatories.
• Cumin, turmeric, and sage help fight dementia.
• Cayenne, cumin, coriander and cinnamon help to regulate insulin and blood sugar, aiding fat loss.
• Lemon grass, nutmeg, bay leaves and saffron have a calming effect.
• Garlic, mustard seed, hawthorne, and chicory are excellent for the heart.
• Basil and thyme help your skin become softer and smoother.
• Turmeric, garlic, basil, cinnamon, thyme, saffron, garlic and ginger boost the immune system.
• Coriander, rosemary, cayenne, allspice and black pepper can help banish depression.