Health Benefits of Herbs and Spices

I’ve always been very proud of having my spice rack full of all sorts of herbs and spices.  I’m not entirely sure why this is, but I like to pretend it’s my body’s way of telling me what it needs because herbs and spices actually hold some very powerful health benefits we often overlook. Having all of them lined up perfectly in alphabetical order (this only happens once a year probably) gives my anxiety a break. Below is a list of the most common ones (in alphabetical order) we use in everyday recipes and how they may benefit health.

I remember several years ago being traumatized when a good friend placed a cayenne powder paste on his leg. In my mind I could see every tiny knick on my leg resulting from nonchalant shaving screech in pain. Turns out the capsaicin in cayenne can actually help relieve pain by inhibiting pain nerves. Other topical uses include treatment for psoriasis and cluster headaches. Cayenne pepper has unbelievable benefits for the circulatory system when ingested. It can help normalize blood pressure, preventing hypertension and it’s also capable of clearing out arterial plaque. With this in mind, a cocktail of water and cayenne may be a lifesaver when someone is experiencing a heart attack, but don’t rely on it because the research is not there yet. And finally, my favorite benefit of all is that just a small amount (about ½ teaspoon) eaten at each meal could decrease appetite and help you lose weight. If that’s the case, load me up with 16 teaspoons a meal, please!

Mmmmm. Whenever a recipe calls for cilantro I just know it’s going to be primo and I also know I’ll probably add almost double what the recipe calls for. Lucky for me, I may be helping my body fight off illnesses and aging. Like many other plants, cilantro contains a variety of powerful antioxidants (beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, and zeaxanthin) that can help destroy toxins in the body. Cilantro may also be a good tool to help purify water and fight against salmonella! Unfortunately, not everyone can enjoy cilantro’s benefits because of the dreaded soapy aftertaste some people experience due to a genetic variant. What a miserable life that must be, my condolences.

Cinnamon always brings back the memories of cooking with my grandma on Christmas Eve; the scent of this spice radiated through her house on the holidays, leaving everyone in a euphoric Christmas coma. Not only does cinnamon help foster positive mental health, but it also provides a great deal of physical health benefits. Cinnamon helps fight against Metabolic Syndrome— a condition characterized by a combination of elevated blood pressure, high blood sugar levels from insulin resistance, atypical cholesterol levels, and extra body fat around the waist (AKA a “fat tire”). Metabolic syndrome increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Most cinnamons found in the pantry are unfortunately not ceylon cinnamon, or “true cinnamon”, and contain a compound that could lead to health problems when used frequently and/or in large doses. When it’s time to restock the cinnamon, try looking for Ceylon online or in your local health food stores!

Everyone knows garlic is fierce.  I mean, if you can keep vampires away, you have got it all going for ya!  Not only can it kick vampire butts, recent research has shown that certain components of garlic are potential cancer slayers!  One component of garlic in particular, diallyl disulfide, proved it’s ability to kill leukemia in laboratory studies.  Another known battle for garlic is against heart disease and atherosclerosis.  Evidence is mixed, but those who took 900mg in a study over 4 years did slow the development of atherosclerosis.  So we are looking at a powerhouse of antioxidant that can possibly fend off cancer and heart disease.  Sign me up.  And if you love the flavor of garlic as much as I do, it isn’t even a small price to pay, “garlic breath” aside to get those kind of benefits!  Garlic goes great in just about any kind of dish.  I add it to soups and casseroles, salsas, pizza, you name it!  And most of the time I throw in more than the recipe calls for.  What can I say?  I like to stay fierce!

No, I am not talking about my adorable children.  I am talking about the plant, the root to be exact.  Ginger root has been used for medicinal purposes for over 2,000 years and as a cooking spice for over 4,000 years.  Most of us have only known it to be good for nausea, particularly of the pregnancy kind.  Ginger snaps and ginger ale, that’s it.  But ginger has so much more to offer!  Ginger may help with inflammation.  “Ginger has anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer and antioxidant activities, as well as a small amount of analgesic property,” says Roberta Lee, MD, vice chair of the Department of Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.  It has been studied particularly in those with osteoarthritis.  Ginger contains a variety of vitamins and minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassium (to name a few).  This spice goes very well with some seafood dishes, pumpkin, apples and also paired with oranges.  Ginger can be grated over a salad or added to stir-fry for a little kick.

One of my first flavor loves. *Sigh*  I can remember my grandma giving me chocolate covered mint candy as a child.  To this day I am still a sucker for the two together!  For most people, something like mint candies or even toothpaste are the first thing that comes to mind at the mention of the word “mint”.  These types of products contain mint oil.  There are many types of mint (a.k.a. mentha).  Peppermint oil has been studied in the relief of IBS symptoms where it is believed to active an “anti-pain” channel in the colon.  Other uses for mint, such as in tea or food, incorporate the leaves of the plant.  Mint contains the antioxidant rosmanic acid which has been studied in the relief of seasonal allergy symptoms.  There are many other benefits that this powerful herb has been linked to such as with helping fight colds by breaking up mucus.  So if you are feeling a little under the weather try adding some mint to your day.  Mint contains modest amounts of Vitamins A & C, potassium, magnesium, calcium and phosphorous.  A quick and easy way to enjoy mint is to make your own flavored water combining mint with other flavors such as berries, cucumbers, etc.  Mint can also be added to salsas and salads by gently cutting the delicate plant with a sharp knife and added right before serving.

I think I may have stained all my bowls and the bowls at my work with this spice. Turmeric is the spice that gives curry its color and has been used for thousands of years for its medicinal properties. Now, turmeric is starting to pick up popularity in the field of research due to a compound it contains, curcumin. This special compound is an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant. Long term, low level inflammation is believed to be the root cause of almost every chronic disease. Every. Chronic. Disease. So, idealistically, this spice should be a staple in almost every home. Sorry dishes, I guess you will just have to be yellow from now on.

Using spices in replace of salt for flavor can help prevent high blood pressure, so almost every spice and herb could be beneficial. The herbs and spices listed here are only a few in plethora, but as always, before changing anything in your diet or activity level  consult your physician.



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