Herbs and spices add so much more than flavor to our food

Dr. Angela Seabright
Mike Miller

| 5 min read

Herbs and spices. We have them. We use them. We have a cupboard full of them and we typically have no idea what to do with them. Even more so we have no idea that they’re incredibly good for us.
We’ve long known that herbs and spices are great ways to add flavor without adding calories, fat or salt. Now, thanks to modern research, more and more information is coming out detailing the incredible health benefits herbs and spices provide. They aid in everything from digestion, memory and cholesterol control to helping to prevent diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s.
The following list of herbs and spices are some of the most common varieties available. If you’re like most, your cupboard or pantry is likely already stocked with most of these. We’ll break down the properties and uses for each so you’ll know how they help as well as how to use them.
  • Cinnamon:
Cinnamon contains natural substances that function similar to insulin in our bodies and can aid in the regulation of blood sugar levels. This is great for those at risk or with diabetes and heart disease. ¼ to ½ a teaspoon daily can lower glucose, cholesterol and triglyceride levels by as much as 30%.
There are many ways to use cinnamon: sprinkled on apples, bananas, melons, oranges or sweet potatoes; in spice rubs for meats; on desserts like rice pudding, pies, or cakes; in soups or stews; in iced tea or coffee; in breads, oatmeal or cereals.
  • Coriander:
Coriander is the seed that produces cilantro (another great herb), yet the two have different flavors and health benefits. The oils from coriander seeds contain antioxidants that aid in digestion as well as regulating blood sugar, cholesterol and free radical production.
Coriander has many applications: add to pancakes or waffles for a Middle Eastern flavor; soups, fish and smoked meats all pair well with coriander; it’s great in marinades and vinaigrettes too. Mix coriander seeds into your pepper grinder to spice up your pepper. It pairs well with cumin as well.
  • Cumin:
Cumin has similar properties to cinnamon, coriander and turmeric in that it aids in the control of blood sugar and its germ-fighting properties help reduce the risk of ulcers. It’s also rich in iron, magnesium and calcium.
The second most popular spice behind black pepper, cumin is commonly associated with Mexican and Spanish dishes. It’s a great seasoning for meats, veggies, beans, rice, sauces, stews, chili and curry.
  • Dried Red Peppers:
A few spices fall under this category – paprika, crushed red chili flakes, and cayenne. The compound in chilies that brings the heat, capsaicin, is also linked to metabolism boosting and fat burning, lower ulcer risk, and keeping cholesterol in check. The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties may aid in the fight against cancer too.
Dried chilies pair with a surprising amount of things, and can be used subtly to liberally depending on your flair for the fire. Chili, soup, stews, marinades, salsa, eggs, most meats and beans all benefit from chilies kick. It also pairs excellent with dark chocolate.
  • Ginger:
This root offers a spicy, sweet, citrus like note and is used in savory and sweet dishes alike. Common to Asian dishes, a single teaspoon of ginger packs as many antioxidants as a cup of spinach. It is known to reduce pain, relieve nausea & cold symptoms, motion sickness and has been hailed for its relief to pregnant women and chemotherapy patients.
Ginger can sliced, grated or even candied. It’s great in stir-fry, baked goods, marinades and vinaigrettes, with fresh fruit, yogurt or ice cream, and pairs well with veggies like carrots and parsnips and fish like salmon.
  • Parsley:
Long thought of as just a garnish, parsley is no longer relegated to the sidelines (or the side if the plate). Research has shown parsley to inhibit the growth of breast-cancer cells.
Its mild, pleasant flavor makes it an easy paring with most foods, including fish and beef and chicken. It also pairs exceptionally well with citrus, mint, capers and garlic. Parsley is great in soups and stews, with pasta dishes and potatoes.
  • Oregano:
Oregano is common to many world cuisines – Italian, Greek, Latin – and with good reason. It provides antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, antibiotic and anticancer properties thanks to the extremely high amount of antioxidants. The oils contained in oregano are used to fight all manner of illness including pain, fever, cough and congestion.
You’ll find oregano everywhere. Pizza, tomato sauce, spice rubs, pasta, chicken, fish, soups, salads marinades and vinaigrettes. Combining it with basil, garlic, marjoram, thyme and rosemary, yields a potent antiviral, antibacterial, antimicrobial and cancer fighting seasoning blend.
  • Rosemary:
Another helpful anti-inflammatory, rosemary is also under study for its benefit to chronic health diseases and heart issues. It’s also full of fiber and iron and is known to aid circulation and digestion.
Rosemary brings and earthy, woodsy flavor to the party and pairs well with roasted meats like lamb, chicken and pork and savory sides like mashed potatoes. It also plays nicely with tomatoes, spinach and mushrooms as well as breads and even cakes.
  • Thyme:
Also high in antioxidants, thyme is being looked at for its role in the aid of respiratory functions. It’s also high in Vitamin K and is proven to protect cell membranes.
Thyme, like it’s cousin mint, has many uses. Soups, salads, sprinkled on veggies, fish, chicken, dips, sauces, stir-fry and even eggs; there’s almost nowhere time can’t go. Thyme can even be made into a tea to help cure everything from athlete’s foot to colds.
  • Turmeric:
Perhaps not everyone has turmeric in his or her cupboard, but this is one that you should. A member of the ginger family, turmeric contains curcumin, a bright yellow compound rich in antioxidants that protect and improve the health of all of our body’s organs. These antioxidants prevent oxidation and inflammation and can help protect us from chronic diseases.
Turmeric is most commonly associated with Indian curries but also works great in soups and stews, as a flavor enhancer in rice and fish dishes, or even toasted lightly and added into sautéed vegetables. Dips and sauces also benefit from the addition of turmeric. It pairs well with garlic, citrus, and other spices like coriander and cumin.
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Photo credit: Aditya Moses

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