Herbs and spices are a great way to add flavor, color, and fragrance to dishes without adding extra fat, sugar, or salt. They also provide powerful antioxidants, and have a range of other health benefits!
Herbs, like parsley, sage, rosemary, basil, thyme, and dill, are leaves and can be used fresh or dried.
Spices come from the bark, root, or other parts of tropical plants and trees, and are typically used dried or ground
Using herbs and spices to reduce the salt in your diet is a great way to decrease sodium intake and your risk of heart disease. Spices like black pepper, garlic powder, curry powder, cumin, dill, basil, ginger, coriander, and onion are the most effective herbs and spices in replacing the taste of salt.
Cooking with herbs and spices is a great way to make foods more flavorful and satisfying without adding extra calories. You may find that you need less sugar in some of your favorite dishes if you add sweet spices like cinnamon, cardamom, or nutmeg.
Many herbs and spices are being studied for their ability to reduce harmful inflammation in the body. Inflammation is found to be the precursor of many chronic diseases including heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Turmeric is a particularly potent anti-inflammatory spice, and has even been shown to be more effective than ibuprofen in reducing knee pain for people with osteoarthritis.
Antioxidants are colorful substances found in plant foods that help to protect your cells against damage aging, the environment, and other stressors. Herbs and spices are particularly good sources of antioxidants. For example, 1/2 teaspoon of cloves has more antioxidants than 1/2 cup of blueberries! The herbs and spices with the most antioxidants include oregano, sage, peppermint, lemon balm, clove, and cinnamon.
Turmeric is the spice that gives curry powder its yellow color. It contains powerful antioxidants, and also has strong anti-inflammatory effects. In fact, some studies have shown it to be more powerful than anti-inflammatory drugs for conditions like arthritis. Studies also link turmeric to improvements in brain function, and reduced heart disease and cancer risk.
The active ingredient in cayenne pepper is called capsaicin, which has been shown to reduce appetite and increase fat burning in several studies. Capsaicin may also have anti-cancer effects, although this has only been studied in animals.
Anyone who has experienced nausea is probably aware of ginger’s stomach-calming effects. Ginger also has anti-inflammatory effects, and can help with pain management.
Garlic has been used throughout history for its medicinal properties. We now know that many of these health effects are thanks to a compound called “allicin,” which gives garlic its distinctive smell. Garlic may help to combat colds and infections, reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol, and reduce blood pressure. Be sure to let your garlic sit for 10 minutes after chopping to allow the allicin to fully develop.
This sweet and warming spice is delicious, and particularly beneficial for diabetics. Its sweet flavor will not only help you to reduce the amount of sugar you need to add to your favorite dishes, it can also help to lower blood sugar levels. It also has heart healthy benefits: lowering triglycerides, LDL, and total cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes.
Rosemary is a great herb for students, or anyone needing to boost memory and concentration while relieving stress! It contains high levels of antioxidants, and has anti-microbial properties as well. Studies have also shown that rosemary can help to neutralize some of the carcinogenic effects of grilled meat when it is used in a marinade (particularly when mixed with red wine!)