Spices and your Health

Culinary spices not only spice up your food and your life, but many have nutritional benefits that improve health. Read on, and see if you can pick out some common spices you have added to your meals, or find some that you should be adding.


Antioxidants are nutrients in whole foods that keep diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer away. When you think about antioxidants, fruits and vegetables usually come to mind. But those aren't the only foods where these health boosting nutrients are hiding. 

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Research shows that herbs and spices also pack a powerful punch when it comes to antioxidants. A USDA study looked at nearly 40 common herbs and spices to test their antioxidant activity. 

Remember that the quality of the spice...where it was grown, how it was dried or processed, will affect the nutritional benefits of the spice, as well as the flavor.  Fresh local or garden grown spices will be best, and trustworthy organic products in the store are my second source.

Oregano emerged as the leader of the pack. Researchers found that oregano has 3 to 20 times more antioxidant activity than the other herbs studied. In fact, it has more than many fruits and vegetables. Oregano has 42 times more antioxidant activity than apples, 30 times more than potatoes, 12 times more than oranges and 4 times more than blueberries. 

But that's not the only herb or spice that can improve your health. Dill, thyme, sage, rosemary, ginger and even peppermint have high antioxidant levels too. 

The main ingredient in curry is Turmeric, from which a spice called Curcumin is derived. Sally Frautschy, Ph.D., is a researcher from UCLA who has done extensive testing on Curcumin. She says that we accidentally found out that it blocks every single step in Alzheimer's pathogenesis and it kills nearly every cancer cell in the lab. 

In India, Curry is part of the staple diet; they also have the lowest rates of Alzheimer's disease in the world. Marcia Herrin, R.D., a nutritionist at the Dartmouth Medical School says "practically every herb and spice that's been studied has some health benefit," herbs and spices are loaded with antioxidants, but we may not be getting those benefits as much as we could. Herrin says Americans don't use many herbs and spices compared to the rest of the world.

Researchers also say that many of these herbs are only absorbed by the body when they're eaten with fat, healthy fats and oils.

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Updated 5/6/13

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