Fitness Facts: Benefits of herbs and spices
By Liz Cook
Registered Dietitian, Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic
When most of us think about healthy foods, we probably think of veggies, fruits, lean proteins, healthy fats and whole grains. While herbs and spices might not pop into our mind, many of these plants contain valuable nutrients that can give your food a serious boost.
Most of us think of the flavor benefit that comes with a sprinkle of cinnamon, a spoonful of garlic or a few leaves of fresh basil, but the health benefits are just as strong. Herbs and spices traditionally come from the leaves, roots, berries, bark, seeds and flowers of various plants.
Most herbs can be purchased fresh or dried, or you can grow your own at home. Spices most often come ground and jarred. While most of us likely never look at the expiration date on our dried herbs and spices, for the maximum benefit it’s best to use them within a year of purchase.
Many specific plants have been studied and shown to have beneficial impacts on different markers of health, which we will explore here. One thing to note is that while these herbs and spices are beneficial, the dosages given in trials often are very large.
Incorporating these plants can be tasty and beneficial for your health but likely will not work miracles. Some herbs and spices are available in high-dose supplement form. However, you should speak with your doctor or a registered dietitian before taking any supplements.
Benefits of herbs and spices
Basil has been shown to be anti-inflammatory and function as an antioxidant in the body. Other leafy green herbs, such as cilantro and oregano, can have similar effects.
Cayenne is certainly spicy, and you may want to use it in small doses. But it has been shown to help improve muscle and joint pain associated with arthritis and similar conditions.
Cinnamon has been shown to help reduce blood sugar, which can be beneficial to individuals struggling with diabetes or prediabetes. Cinnamon also can have a positive impact on both cholesterol and triglycerides. Using between a half-teaspoon and two teaspoons daily can provide these benefits.
Garlic can help improve measures of overall heart health, including blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides. It also is thought to play a role in boosting the immune system and helping the body stay healthy.
Ginger is beneficial for managing nausea, upset stomach and other gastrointestinal symptoms. Individuals who are pregnant, recently had surgery, suffer from motion sickness or have nausea induced by chemotherapy may benefit from added ginger. Consuming one gram of ginger is recommended to achieve relief from these symptoms.
Mint, like ginger, has been shown to help alleviate gastrointestinal symptoms. Mint works to relax the muscles of gastrointestinal tract and can help both individuals with IBS and pregnant women.
Rosemary can help improve nasal congestion and other symptoms often associated with seasonal allergies.
Sage is thought to improve both memory and overall brain function in aging individuals.
Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin, which is anti-inflammatory. Curcumin has been shown to help increase the body’s production of antioxidants and is thought to help prevent cognitive decline.
The benefits of turmeric can help those with pain and swelling from conditions such as arthritis. An important note here is that black pepper helps your body put curcumin to use, so make sure to sprinkle a little pepper on your meal as well.