Not only do herbs and spices improve the taste of our food, they also provide a range of nutrients and health benefits. Some spices are known to boost metabolism, improve insulin sensitivity and improve digestion, among other benefits. Many herbs and spices also contain more disease-fighting antioxidants per gram than fruits and vegetables. The following are some common herbs and spices, their health promoting benefits, and how to incorporate them into your diet:
Cinnamon is well known for its ability to stabilize blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity, which can help with managing Type 2 Diabetes. When sprinkled on high carb foods cinnamon will slow the rate of stomach emptying, reducing the rise in blood sugar levels. Cinnamon has one of the highest antioxidant levels of spices and has been shown to reduce inflammation and blood triglyceride levels. This spice is an excellent source of manganese and fiber and a very good source of calcium. Furthermore, manganese is important for healthy bones, formation of connective tissue and absorption of calcium, among other functions.
⇒ Sprinkle it over oats, pancakes, homemade muesli bars, protein balls, roasted sweet potato and pumpkin, or add to smoothies. Try simmering a cinnamon stick with plant-based milk, a dash of nutmeg and honey for a warming winter drink. Cinnamon is also delicious as part of a chilli spice mix.
The active ingredient ‘capsaicin’ in cayenne pepper boosts metabolism, which increases your body’s ability to burn fat. It also increases circulation, allowing more oxygen and nutrients delivery throughout the body. However, just be careful if you have a sensitive stomach as too much can irritate the stomach lining; so a little goes a long way with this hot spice! Cayenne Pepper is an excellent source of vitamin A (important for eyesight), vitamin C and vitamin B6.
⇒ Use it to flavor meat, poultry or spice up fish dishes. Delicious when combined with paprika and sea salt to chickpeas before roasting.
Turmeric has long been studied for its strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. The active ingredient ‘curcumin’ has been found to reduce inflammation and oxidation. It regulates cell signaling, blood sugar levels, blood triglyceride levels, and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in the brain. Turmeric has also shown to enhance detoxification, reduce cancer risk, improve brain function, as well as potential therapeutic benefits for some autoimmune conditions including Chron’s and Rheumatoid Arthritis.
⇒ Warm up with a delicious turmeric golden latte. Add turmeric to roasted veggies, curries, meat and poultry, egg dishes, or in smoothies (try turmeric and ginger with banana, pineapple or mango, a handful of spinach leaves and a cup of plant-based milk).
Ginger can improve digestion and studies have shown it to be useful at reducing nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. It is an excellent carminative (relieves intestinal gas), as well as an intestinal anti-spasmolytic (relaxes and soothes the intestinal tract). Ginger contains potent anti-inflammatory benefits and it can also help detoxification pathways by stimulating digestion, circulation and sweating. This may help cleanse the liver, colon and other organs and boost immune function.
⇒ Add ginger to your cup of tea with a squeeze of lemon. Try ginger in stir-fries, curries, slow cooked dishes, or over baked fish. Add it to pumpkin soup for a twist on an old favourite.
Oregano is an effective anti-bacterial, with studies showing the volatile oils in oregano inhibit the growth of bacteria. It contains many phytonutrients, potent antioxidants, and is a good source of fiber, manganese, iron and calcium. Furthermore, oregano is an excellent source of vitamin K, important for blood clotting as well as the maintenance of healthy bone density, which reduces the risk of fractures and osteoporosis.
⇒ Oregano is commonly used in Mediterranean dishes including pasta, pizzas, to flavor meat and poultry. It is delicious added to sautéed mushrooms and onions, omelets and frittatas. Add some fresh oregano into your olive oil to infuse with the essence of oregano.
Coriander seeds are high on the list of healing spices due to its high phytochemical content, which has been found to create optimal cell functioning and communication. When cells are communicating effectively, enzymatic and biochemical reactions take place required for optimal functioning of our body. This then improves the functioning of organs, detoxification pathways, digestion, and a strong immune system. Furthermore, research has found that coriander helps to control blood sugar, cholesterol and free radical production.
⇒ Use it in soups and broths, slow cooked dishes, curries, risotto or poached fish. Add coriander seeds to your pepper grinder with pepper to add extra flavor to all dishes. Try a homemade falafel recipe with coriander seeds.
Fennel seeds are an excellent source of essential minerals including copper, potassium, calcium, zinc, iron, manganese, selenium and magnesium. Furthermore, zinc and selenium work together in hormonal regulation and can assist with managing acne. Fennel seeds have been found to have a wide range of medical purposes, including increasing milk production in lactating women, reducing fluid retention, reducing asthma symptoms, helps purify the blood and used in tea to relieve constipation, indigestion and bloating. The oil in the seeds is found to be carminative, calming the nerves and promoting mental clarity.
⇒ You will get more flavor from fennel seeds if you grind them just before cooking. Fennel seeds are used both in sweet or savoury dishes including added to a spice blend, as a dry rub for meat and poultry, and sautéed with onions. You can also add ground fennel to healthy oat cookies (perfect as a snack for breastfeeding mamas). Fennel is also commonly used in tea blends.
There are so many more herbs and spices that provide plentiful health benefits.
Time to get creative in the kitchen with flavours! What is your favourite spice or spice mix?
- Am J Clin Nutr. 2 007 Jun;85(6):1552-6