13 Herbs and Spices for Health

Stock your pantry with these herbs and spices for health, wellness and balance.


| June 2013


Eat more whole foods. This simple recommendation is at the heart of a building consensus: The healthiest diet is a plant-based diet. In The Plant-Powered Diet (The Experiment, 2012), registered dietitian Sharon Palmer gathers the most up-to-date findings in nutrition to explain both why you should fill more of your plate with whole-plant foods and how to do so, whether you’re a vegan, vegetarian or omnivorous. Learn about the benefits certain herbs and spices for health have to offer in this excerpt taken from chapter 8, “The Bold and the Beautiful: Herbs, Spices and Chocolate.”

You can purchase this book from the Mother Earth Living store: The Plant-Powered Diet.

There are a number of herbs and spices currently under investigation for health benefits, and I have included some of the most promising in the following list. It’s important to note that much of the health research on spices and herbs is still in its infancy; so stay tuned as researchers further mine this field in order to elucidate the potential these plants hold to fight disease. Remember, spices—like all plant foods—offer no “silver bullet”; there’s little proof that they cure conditions like cancer or Alzheimer’s disease, even though some Web sites selling herb and spice supplements might suggest otherwise. Simply include these powerful plant foods in your diet to boost your natural defense system against disease:

1. Turmeric, the Spice King. Probably the most celebrated spice in the research world, turmeric is responsible for the characteristic yellow-gold hue in curry powder, popular in Indian cooking and traditional medicine for centuries. The spice, which comes from the rhizome of the turmeric plant, is packed with a polyphenol called curcumin that demonstrates antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities. Studies have found that turmeric may protect against cancer, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and gastrointestinal problems. Of particular interest is turmeric’s potential in Alzheimer’s disease protection. Scientists discovered that rodents fed curcumin experienced delayed accumulation of the protein fragments called beta-amyloids in the brain that is a hallmark in the development of Alzheimer’s. Not all studies have found a brain-protective effect for turmeric, and more research in this area is set to be published in coming years. Regardless, it certainly seems like a good idea to boost the color and flavor of your foods with turmeric.

2. Beyond the Fields of Garlic. Forget about guarding against vampires; there’s some evidence that garlic may help protect you against a real monster: heart disease. Folklore attributes a multitude of far-ranging health benefits to garlic—from wound healing to treating rheumatism—but modern studies show that this pungent bulb may have heart-healthy effects, such as lowering inflammation, oxidative stress, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure, as well as exhibiting anticlotting activity. It turns out that this plant in the onion family contains bioactive substances including allicin, quercetin, and organosulfur compounds that may be behind its benefits. However, a recent National Institute of Health–funded clinical trial found that consumption of garlic did not successfully reduce cholesterol levels.

3. Hot, Hot Pepper. You can’t beat the heat of peppers—red, black, or white—for their strong health effects. Red pepper is the dried fruit pod of the Capsicum family, which encompasses a number of spice forms, such as chili pepper, tabasco pepper, African chilies, paprika, and cayenne pepper. These spices all have one thing in common: They’re a concentrated source of capsaicin, the powerful phytochemical that gives chiles their heat. Studies suggest that capsaicin has cancer-protective, anti-inflammatory, and pain-relieving effects. On the other hand, black and white pepper both come from the small dried berry of the vine Piper nigrum and contain piperine, a bioactive compound linked with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer effects.





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