Some spices and herbs do more than just add flavor to your food; they also provide various health benefits — not that we needed more reasons to sprinkle cinnamon on our butternut squash or add roasted garlic to, well, anything. These eight spices and herbs have been linked with everything from reducing nausea to helping prevent cardiovascular diseases and cancers.
Who knew something so sweet could be so good for you? Animal studies have suggested that cinnamon could reduce inflammation, have antioxidant effects and fight bad bacteria.
Though cinnamon is currently an unproven treatment, some research suggests it has additional health benefits for diabetics. A particular type of cinnamon, cassia cinnamon, has been associated with lowering blood sugar in people with diabetes, though conflicting studies have challenged this evidence.
A study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Department of Human Nutrition concluded that cinnamon reduces serum glucose, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol in people with Type 2 diabetes; it also suggested it could reduce the risk factors associated with diabetes and cardiovascular diseases if added to the diets of people with Type 2 diabetes. The American Diabetes Association, however, claims there’s not yet enough research to rely on this claim.
Cinnamon is a very good source of dietary fiber, calcium and manganese.
Eat up! Sprinkle it on your butternut squash (with some nutmeg) or use it in low-fat dessert recipes, like this low-fat almond-cinnamon biscotti.
Turmeric has been used for medicinal purposes for 4,000 years and is the main spice in curry, though it’s also found in mustards and cheeses.
One of turmeric’s antioxidants, curcumin, not only gives turmeric its yellow color but also offers antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Antioxidants fight free radicals, which are molecules in the body that damage cells and tamper with DNA.
Some people take turmeric supplements for rheumatoid arthritis and joint pain because of curcumin’s ability to reduce inflammation; curcumin has also been linked to the prevention of blood clots. Additionally, some research shows that turmeric consumption can help with dyspepsia, or an upset stomach.
Turmeric is a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin B6, iron, potassium and manganese.
We’re not sure about garlic’s effectiveness at warding off vampires, but it has plenty of other uses. Its history dates back 5,000 years, indicated by its presence in Sanskrit records, and it’s been used in Chinese medicine for at least 3,000 years. Rich in antioxidants, garlic has been linked with healthful cardiovascular benefits and even cancer prevention. Some studies suggest it could help prevent heart disease and hardening of the arteries, as well as slightly lower blood pressure. Despite contradicting studies, some research also indicates that it can slightly lower blood cholesterol levels.
Garlic is a very good source of vitamin C, vitamin B6 and manganese.
Eat up! If you haven’t learned to roast garlic, we’re disappointed in you, but you can redeem yourself by learning here. We particularly love adding it to kale and other leafy greens, or even just spreading it on a slice of toast. Or you can even make roasted garlic and lemon soup!
The rhizome, or underground stem, of ginger is the part used as a spice, as well as a medicine. It’s used for medicinal purposes in a variety of forms: fresh, dried and powdered, as a juice or as an oil.
It’s been linked with reducing symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and joint and muscle pain, but its effectiveness is unclear since more conclusive scientific research is necessary. Substantial research has shown that taking 1 gram of ginger one hour before surgery could reduce nausea and vomiting during the first 24 hours after surgery, and ginger also has shown potential in treating dizziness and morning sickness. Many studies have also pointed to anti-inflammatory properties in ginger.
Ginger is a good source of vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, copper and manganese.
This perennial herb gained popularity in the United States when World War II soldiers returned home craving Italy’s amazing “pizza herb.” Because of its high amount of phenolic acids and flavonoids, oregano is high in antioxidants. In fact, oregano has the highest antioxidant activity of 27 fresh culinary herbs studied by the USDA. Oregano also has been found to have antimicrobial properties, meaning that it could help reduce the risk of bacterial infection, such as that caused by listeria contamination in prepared meats.
Oregano is a very good source of dietary fiber; vitamins A, C, E and K; folate; calcium; iron; magnesium; and manganese.
Eat up! For a nutrient-packed vegetarian meal, try this grilled rainbow chard with fava beans and oregano. If you’re a meat-lover, mix it up Mediterranean-style with these lamb kebabs that use a lemon and oregano marinade.
Fun fact: Basil is known as the “king of the herbs” since its name comes from the Greek word for “king” and it was used by the Greek and English royalty for their baths and medicine. Basil is extremely high in antioxidants, and studies suggest it also has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Basil is a very good source of dietary fiber; vitamins A, C, K and B6; folate; calcium; iron; magnesium; phosphorus; potassium; zinc; copper; and manganese.
Eat up! One word: pesto! It can be used on pastas (we love it on ravioli), or you can spread it on sandwiches. Try this basil pesto recipe from the Food Network. Or, if you want something new and different, try this broccoli pesto from the New York Times.
Most of the health benefits of thyme come from thymol, the primary volatile oil constituent in thyme. Some studies suggest that thyme extracts can effectively inhibit bacteria, such as Staphalococcus aureus, Bacillus subtilis and Escherichia coli. It also has extremely high antioxidant properties due to its high content of flavones.
Thyme is a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamins A and C, riboflavin, calcium, iron, magnesium, copper and manganese.
Eat up! Get ready to go grocery shopping because the picture for this sweet onion and thyme dip is going to have you craving it immediately. It uses Greek yogurt instead of cheese or cream, which keeps it low-fat and adds protein. Or try this French roasted cauliflower with thyme.
Often used to flavor chicken, lamb, pork and fish dishes, this evergreen herb packs a healthy punch with its two key ingredients, caffeic acid and rosemarinic acid, which are not only strong antioxidants but also anti-inflammatory agents. Some studies have suggested that adding rosemary to meat can break up potentially cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines, or HCAs, which form when meat is cooked. Research has indicated that rosemary oil can kill some bacteria and fungi in test tubes, though it’s uncertain how or if this is applicable to humans.
Rosemary is a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamins A and C, folate, calcium, iron and manganese.
Eat up! One of our favorite ways to use rosemary is on lamb, but there are plenty of other options. MayoClinic has a wonderful orange rosemary roasted chicken recipe , and these rosemary roasted almonds are the perfect nutritious snack.