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The Health Benefits of Herbs and Spices

spices and herbsBy Jacquie Eubanks BSN, RN

It’s not surprising that spices and herbs enrich the taste of your food but did you know that they may also hold the power to improve the general quality of your diet and optimize your overall health?  Botanically classified as fruits and vegetables, spices and herbs allow you to enhance the flavor of your food while limiting the use of salt, sugar or fat.  Many contain micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals.  Some are rich in carotenoids, flavonoids and polyphenols, known for their cell protecting antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

An herb, which may be used in either fresh or dried form, can  be defined as any leafy plant with seeds or flowers that is used as food, medicine or perfume.  Spices, which are generally found in dried form, are categorized as any part of a plant other than the leaves such as bark, stems, roots, berries, seeds or buds that are primarily used for seasoning, coloring, and preserving food but have medicinal and cosmetic uses as well. 

Many herbs and spices contain powerful antioxidants, which fight free radical cell damage and strengthen your ability to fight infection and disease.  Certain herbs and spices are thought to play a role in fighting inflammation, which can contribute to the development of chronic diseases such as heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and type 2 diabetes.  Others help to boost the immune system, help to regulate blood sugar, or aid in controlling cholesterol levels.

The following herbs are believed to have significant health promoting benefits:

Turmeric Related to ginger and rich in essential vitamins and minerals, this powerhouse spice has been used for centuries as both a medicine and a food.  Mounting evidence supports a wide range of benefits including disease fighting potential in the prevention of conditions such as anemia, Alzheimer’s, arthritis and various malignant diseases.  Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has been shown to exhibit antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, antimutagenic properties, which may help protect and improve the health of all body organs. 

Cinnamon – High in antioxidants, cinnamon is both antifungal and antibacterial and contains iron, calcium, manganese and fiber.  Current studies suggest that cinnamon may help to lower the negative effects of high fat meals and may help improve glucose and lipid levels in type 2 diabetics.  Researchers at Tel Aviv University concluded that an extract found in cinnamon bark contains properties that may inhibit cognitive decline and the development of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Ginger –  This powerfully efficient antioxidant can relieve stomach upset and nausea especially when caused by morning or motion sickness and has also been shown to relieve severe nausea associated with chemotherapy.  Ginger helps to regulate blood flow and its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties may help ease arthritic symptoms.  Ginger contains essential nutrients, B-vitamins and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc. 

Holy Basil (Tulsi) –  A relative of sweet basil, studies show that Holy Basil may be an effective stress reducer and may help reduce the negative effects of stress on the body. The leaves contain high levels of beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin K and lutein and zeaxanthin, known to  support eye health.  Holy Basil’s mineral content includes potassium, manganese, copper, iron, and magnesium.  Tulsi oil has strong antiseptic properties that may offer protection from disease-causing organisms such as bacteria and fungi. 

Garlic –  Garlic is a rich source of many note-worthy phytonutrients, vitamins, antioxidants and minerals including potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc and heart-healthy selenium.  According to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, garlic offers effective cancer fighting benefits.  The 70 active phytochemicals found in garlic have been shown to reduce blood pressure and help reduce plaque buildup in the arteries benefitting cardiovascular health.   

Meriva-SR Curcumin Phytosome (SF775) by Thorne Research –  This unique, patented, time-release curcumin supplement is complexed with phosphatidylcholine for superior bioavailability.  Curcumin’s potent antioxidants support joint health and cardiovascular function and aid in maintaining a normal inflammatory response. 

Cinnamon Force by New Chapter –  This full spectrum, dual supercritical cinnamon extract helps to maintain blood sugar already within the normal range and may be used to promote healthy weight management. 

Ginger Extract by Pure Encapsulations This standardized extract provides nutritional support for the digestive, cardiovascular and circulatory systems.

Holy Basil Trinity Blend by Enzymatic Therapy This triple blend combines three unique standardized extracts of Holy Basil to provide a powerful and natural response to everyday stresses and help to elevate your mood and spirit. 

Super Garlic 6000 by Metagenics –  This ultra concentrated supplement delivers high potency-preserved allicin to support healthy blood lipids and provide cardiovascular and immune system support.  The unique enteric coating is designed to dissolve in the intestine rather than the stomach to eliminate garlic odor.