Herbs and spices are about more than turning a bland dish into a culinary feat: they also add a dash of healthy benefits to your food.

Did you know, for example, that there are as many antioxidants in one teaspoon of cinnamon as a full cup of pomegranate juice or ½ cup of blueberries?

Antioxidants and other phytochemical substances are thought to play a role in preventing a range of chronic health problems including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and cardiovascular conditions, according to the Mayo Clinic. Herbs and spices also provide a tasty substitute for salt for those looking to decrease their intake of sodium

A surprising source of antioxidants

Allspice, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, oregano, sage, thyme and turmeric powders are all high in antioxidants. Studies have shown that these plant chemicals not only boost brainpower, but they help to prevent cancer and heart disease.

Garlic, rosemary, saffron, and turmeric also have anti-cancer properties. Tumeric, as well as cinnamon and fenugreek, may help to lower blood sugar in people with diabetes.

Ginger, also packed with antioxidants, has long been used as a natural remedy for nausea, migraines, arthritis and motion sickness.

Red Pepper turns up the heat of your food — and the hotter the pepper, the more of the active ingredient capsaicin (and antioxidants) it contains. Cayenne or ground red pepper are richest in beneficial antioxidants, but all red peppers — including chili powder and the milder paprika — are surprisingly good sources of antioxidants. And even in its milder forms, red pepper can also help with weight loss since capsaicin is thought to boost metabolism and control the appetite.


Add more spice to your life

Here are some easy tips to incorporate more of these ‘super spices’ into your diet.

— Perk up your morning coffee by sprinkling ½ teaspoon of cinnamon over ground coffee before brewing.

— Tomato soup need not be dull — give this staple new life with a dash of yellow curry powder.

— Brew a pot of fresh ginger tea — or add ground ginger to Lemonade during the summer months for a refreshing drink.

— For a twist on the traditional grilled cheese sandwich, prepare it with sliced mozzarella cheese, tomato and oregano leaves.

— Stir crushed rosemary leaves, garlic and black pepper into mashed potatoes.

— Add a dash of paprika to store-bought or homemade hummus or guacamole. Or if you’re looking for more kick, stir in some crushed red pepper.

— Want the benefits of chili peppers, but find they’re just too hot for your taste? Look for body crèmes formulated with, yes, red peppers. (Capsaicin is also thought to help reduce arthritis.)

Both fresh and dried herbs have healthy perks. For dried herbs and spices, however, keep in mind they lose their potency over time (most experts give them a year or two). Store dried herbs and spices in tightly sealed containers away from heat and humidity. And if they’re in glass jars, store them in a dark cabinet or pantry because light can cause them to lose their potency.

How antioxidant-rich are the herbs and spices in your pantry? Click here to find out.

Sources: The Mayo Clinic; CNN: SpicesForHealth.com.


Eating Spicy Foods May Help You Live Longer