Previous generations wouldn’t recognize many of the foods we find today in a typical supermarket, including items in the produce aisle. However, one constant in the way we eat hasn’t changed much over the years, and that’s when you season food with spices and herbs, it tastes a lot better.
Herbs and spices don’t just add flavor; they also boost overall health and combat aging. In addition to making food delicious, most spices are high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, which is often an overlooked and underappreciated weapon in the war against chronic diseases.
Many benefits are linked to certain herbs and spices. Some of them may be myths, such as vampire-repelling garlic, but there is no doubt that even in this era of Big Food, the integrity of pure herbs and spices remains fairly unchanged. These plant foods hold tremendous value as an untapped source of disease prevention and overall well-being.
Garlic is one of the greatest medicinal foods of all-time and is definitely at the top of most lists. It has a remarkable ability to lower blood pressure, prevent blood clots, and improve blood cholesterol.
Allicin is the compound that gives garlic its fragrant aroma and also helps boost the immune system. To get the most allicin from garlic, make sure you crush, press, or chop the cloves to fully release and activate this substance. Allicin is formed only when the garlic is smashed or crushed and the enzyme allinin mixes with oxygen.
When cooking, avoid overheating garlic, because you not only wind up with a bitter flavor, but you also destroy its medicinal properties. Whether you like Italian, Asian, Latin, Mediterranean, or other flavors, work a clove or two of garlic into foods such as stir-fried dishes, salad dressings, soups, etc. and do it as often as possible.
Green herbs are next on the list and organic herbs are abundant throughout the entire year. They are easy to grow at home on a south-facing windowsill even in winter, or in containers on a balcony or patio if you don’t “garden” on a larger scale. Growing your own herbs is an inexpensive way to ensure a constant supply. If you can’t do this, fresh, dried varieties work beautifully.
- Parsley doesn’t just freshen your breath; it purifies and rejuvenates your entire system, because of the high levels of chlorophyll. Studies have linked chlorophyll to everything from stopping bacterial growth to counteracting inflammation to lowering blood sugar.
- Rosemary has been linked to improved memory and brain function, because it contains substances that help to protect acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter. Rosemary is also a potent anti-inflammatory compound and is often used to treat arthritis.
- Sage has an anti-diabetic effect in animals. These benefits have yet to be confirmed in humans, but we do know that sage contains anti-inflammatory substances and is an antioxidant. For centuries, it has been used in Ayurvedic medicine as a purifying herb because of its antibacterial and antiviral properties.
- Thyme contains an oil called thymol, which has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antiseptic properties.
- Oregano also contains thymol and is considered the herb with the highest antioxidant activity. In addition to thymol, oregano contains carvacrol (another oil), which has anti-fungal, antibacterial, and anti-parasitic properties. Together, these anti-inflammatory substances make oregano one of the most beneficial herbs you can add to your diet.
Humans are biochemically drawn to certain flavors and spices and nature makes us attracted to these foods for good reasons.
Unlike most animals, we can’t make our own vitamin C, and many researchers theorize that our attraction to sugar is actually nature’s way of getting us to eat high-in-vitamin-C foods like sweet-tasting fruits.
We’re also naturally programmed to love most spices. Perhaps nature gave them their appealing scents so that we would eat them and enjoy all their beneficial health properties. After all, spices are perhaps the most nutrient-dense substances we can eat. Here are a few we recommend:
- Cinnamon contains phytochemicals that increase glucose metabolism in cells (and when glucose is metabolized, it doesn’t get stored as fat). Also, it can help lower blood sugar, decrease blood pressure, and reduce triglyceride levels and “bad” LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol.
- Ginger helps control nausea, but it also decreases the stickiness of blood, which helps to prevent blood clots and decreases inflammation. In animal studies, it lowered cholesterol and slowed the development of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
- Turmeric (one of my personal favorites) contains curcumin, one of the most powerful compounds in the plant kingdom. Curcumin has been used at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in cancer trials and has been shown to slow memory loss in laboratory animals. It’s extremely healthy for the liver, which is “ground zero” for detoxification. Curcumin has also been shown to improve arthritis symptoms, not surprising in view of its enormous anti-inflammatory firepower. I personally use turmeric in soups, eggs, chicken, etc.
The research on the benefits of herbs and spices continues, but there is no question that flavoring dishes with these substances can boost the health qualities of our food.