What’s the secret to getting the most bang for your nutrition buck? Add—not subtract. In the spirit of up-leveling your breakfast, lunch, and dinner, look no further than healthy herbs and spices. They’re the ultimate wellness boost. For centuries, people around the world have used the healing power of herbs and spices to nourish the body from the inside out. In honor of National Herbs and Spices Day, we’re diving into the best herb and spice flavor combinations. Learn why you should eat more herbs and spices, and simple tips for getting your fill!
Herbs vs. SpiceS
Often used interchangeably, they’re not the same.
Is the green, leafy part of the plant. While most come from plants without woody stems, there are a few exceptions. Think: bay leaves. Basil, rosemary, and parsley may look like spices, but they actually qualify as herbs.
Spices, on the other hand…
Come from the bark, root, or other parts of tropical plants (and trees). They’re typically consumed dried or ground. A few examples include cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, black pepper, and star anise.
In general, herbs and spices are widely distributed. Both can be grown in your backyard and composted, too!
Why you should eat more Herbs and Spices
With savory or aromatic properties, healthy herbs and spices do it all: they flavor and garnish food, are used for medicinal purposes, and provide fragrance. They’re in everything from skincare and beauty, to household and cleaning products. Their benefits are a dime a dozen. Healthy herbs and spices are an easy and convenient way to add nourishment to your go-to dishes. Many herbs and spices are loaded with a range of health benefits, including powerful antioxidants. Below are four reasons to add healthy herbs and spices to your repertoire (not just on National Herbs and Spices Day!).
Blood Sugar Balance
As mentioned, cooking with herbs and spices is a delicious and functional way to make foods more satisfying. Speaking of satisfaction, one of the ways to keep your blood sugar balanced is by eating satiating foods. Think—avocados, eggs, and fiber-rich carbs. For an additional boost, incorporate spices and herbs like cinnamon and turmeric. Studies show these aid in blood sugar balance.
Many herbs and spices have been shown to fight cravings while supporting fat burn. In essence, simply diversifying your spice cabinet can potentially help with weight loss. The reason being certain spices and herbs provide a thermogenic effect. This increases your metabolism. When these herbs are used in conjunction with diet and exercise, weight and metabolism benefit.
In lieu of refined table salt, reach for a variety of healthy herbs and spices. They can help mitigate the risk of heart disease. In fact, two new studies indicate that herbs and spices can help promote better cardiovascular health. Furthermore, one study found that adding herbs and spices may help reduce blood pressure. Spices like black pepper, garlic powder, curry powder, cumin, dill, basil, ginger, coriander, and onion are potent and effective.
Many herbs and spices are known to reduce harmful inflammation in the body. Rather than consume pro-inflammatory foods, opt for anti-inflammatory spices and herbs. Turmeric is a particularly potent anti-inflammatory spice, along with ground ginger. Furthermore, herbs and spices are rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants are key for overall health. Healthy herbs and spices with the most antioxidants include oregano, sage, peppermint, lemon balm, clove, and cinnamon.
9 Healthy Herbs and Spices
Give your meals—and taste buds—a kick. These healthy herbs and spices will quickly become staples. Celebrate National Herbs and Spices Day year-round.
Did you know that basil is a member of the mint family? Sweet basil is most widely used for cooking, but many other varieties—with slightly different flavor profiles—are available.B ecause basil is generally used in small quantities, the only substantial nutrient it provides is vitamin K. However, basil also supplies plant compounds, which contribute aroma, flavor, and health benefits.
Piperine—a naturally occurring compound that gives peppercorns their kick—has several noteworthy compounds. In particular, it may reduce the risk of certain cancers, including those of the breast, lung, prostate, ovaries and digestive tract. Black pepper has been deemed the “king of all spices,” thanks to its wide usage and healing properties.
Cinnamon acts in multiple ways to boost your health. Particularly, your metabolism. First and foremost, the body uses more energy to process cinnamon than other foods. (More on that here.) Research also shows cinnamon has an insulin-like action in the body, improving body metabolism and blood sugar balance. Given that it’s high in fiber, cinnamon can help reduce food cravings by promoting a feeling of satiety and fullness.
When you think of cocoa, you probably think of your favorite chocolate dessert, right? But cocoa is actually a spice with many health perks. The cocoa bean is chock-full of flavonoids (antioxidants), which have been shown to boost heart and immune health. Flavonoids seem to play a role in lowering cholesterol, too.
For thousands of years, ginger has been used as a remedy for nausea and gastrointestinal issues. Closely related to turmeric, ginger also contains anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, only pomegranates and certain types of berries contain more! As an anti-nausea agent, it’s popular for seasickness, motion sickness, and morning sickness. Last but not least, some studies have also demonstrated that ginger may have anticancer effects. This is largely due to ginger’s high antioxidant levels.
With its potent compounds and other nutrients, garlic has an array of health benefits. Garlic is widely incorporated for several conditions linked to the blood system and heart—coronary heart disease and hypertension, for example. Garlic is also used in the prevention of certain types of cancer. Although it’s technically a vegetable, garlic is typically eaten like other herbs and spices.
No surprise here. And the data proves it: In a review of 21 studies, turmeric is linked to reduced weight, BMI, and waist circumference. Most of turmeric’s health properties can be attributed to curcumin, which has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Keep in mind that a little bit of turmeric goes a long way—it has a distinctly earthy flavor. Also, it’s best to pair turmeric with black pepper, as the compounds in pepper help your body absorb curcumin.
Earthy and aromatic, rosemary is known to improve brain function and mood, promote hair growth, and more. A member of the mint family, rosemary is prized for its flavor and fragrance. Studies show its woodsy scent helps improve concentration and may boost mood. Recent studies suggest that rosemary, even in the small amounts common in cooking, may help prevent cognitive decline.
Originating from the Mediterranean region, parsley is used for both culinary flavoring and therapeutic treatment—including high blood pressure and allergies. Like others, this herb is full of antioxidants, carotenoids, and other beneficial vitamins. Parsley supports a healthy body and immune system! It also includes an essential nutrient for bone health.
The Best Herb and Spice CombOs
Beyond a dash of salt and pepper, consider these tried-and-true combinations. They might feel intimidating, but they’re totally approachable (even for the novice cook!). Happy National Herbs and Spices Day!
For warmth and sweetness
For a delicious Asian-inspired blend
Ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes. When making a stir-fry, skip the high-sodium soy sauce and opt for equal parts ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes. A dash of coconut aminos also goes a long way!
For a savory Indian dish
Curry, cumin, and mustard seeds. Making a curry? Give your dish an Indian flair with these warming spices.
For classic Italian flavor
Basil, oregano, and parsley. To create a classic Italian flavor, opt for ground basil and oregano. Use equal parts for a marinara sauce.
For a Tex-Mex dish with a kick
Chili powder, cumin, and paprika. Taco seasoning is so easy to make! Opt for homemade Tex-Mex flavor with chili powder, cumin, and paprika.
Hopefully, you’re feeling inspired to add more creative flavor combinations to your favorite grains, proteins, and veggies. Enjoy National Herbs and Spices Day!
Images courtesy of Unsplash.
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This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and we recommend that you always consult with your healthcare provider.