Like most of my patients, you’ve probably heard or read about the importance of getting enough antioxidants in your diet to stay well. You may be surprised to know that you’re likely to have a whole kitchen spice rack full of some very powerful antioxidants and all you have to do is use them in and on your food to get their health benefit!
That’s right! Although I frequently recommend that my patients add antioxidants to their diet in supplement form, adding the right spices to healthy foods can ramp up your antioxidant levels even more. Not to mention adding a whole other dimension of taste and enjoyment to your foods. Let’s look at 10 common kitchen spices and their incredible antioxidant/health benefit.
Your Healthy Herb and Spice Rack
To start, let’s look at an American tradition and its health-boosting ingredients – apple pie. Most of us just gobble down a piece of homemade apple pie for the incredible taste but did you know that it is chocked full of an antioxidant that can help keep your blood sugar levels normal?
Cinnamon: That delightfully delicious auburn spice that usually gets liberally sprinkled atop the crust of an apple pie is really powerful medicine. Recent studies have shown that 500 mg of cinnamon a day can help normalize blood sugar levels, lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, and help dieters lose belly fat that occurs when too much insulin is secreted and stored as fat. An additional health plus of cinnamon is that it also helps preserve brain function and cognition! 1 tsp of cinnamon is equal to 5-1/2 cups of broccoli in antioxidant power! However, stick to Sri Lankan, or Ceylonese, cinnamon rather than Vietnamese to avoid possible liver toxicity. If you cannot find these varieties of cinnamon, limit to 1,000 mg (1 tsp) of common grocery store spice cinnamon which is almost always Vietnamese.
Garlic: Long used for years in Europe as an actual medicine, garlic has strong antibacterial properties. Garlic also reduces cholesterol and inhibits the formation of arterial plaque. If that weren’t enough, garlic also is instrumental in building neurons (nerve cells) and increasing learning and memory capacity.
Rosemary: A strong tasting herb with strong antioxidant capacity, rosemary is thought to both lower blood sugar levels by raising insulin levels and protects brain cells from oxidation.
Oregano: What would pizza and other Italian dishes be without this spice? It’s thought that one of the big factors in the success of the heart healthy Mediterranean diet is oregano’s super antioxidant properties. In fact, recent research has shown that hamburger cooked with oregano greatly reduces the formation of a chemical, malondialdehyde, a cancer causing substance.
Sage: Very high in antioxidant capacity, and cholinesterase inhibitors, sage has been shown to alleviate some Alzheimer symptoms by improving how one part of the brain communicates with another. It also has been shown to reduce inflammation and improve memory.
Cloves: Another top antioxidant, as well as an antibacterial and analgesic. Clove oil has long been used for tooth pain and fighting infection after dental surgery, and also contains eugenol, a platelet inhibitor that can reduce the risk of strokes from blood clot. A teaspoon of powdered clove contains 25% more antioxidant power than 8 oz of pomegranate juice or 4 oz of blueberries!
Turmeric: I bet you never knew that the mustard you use on your submarine sandwich or hot dog can actually help prevent stomach and colon cancer! Turmeric contains curcumin, a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that recent research shows may also help remove toxic metals from your brain. It is thought to also prevent the creation of beta amyloid plaque, a sticky substance that covers the brain in Alzheimer disease. It can also ease leg cramps as it is a rich source of potassium. Take ¼ teaspoon in 4 ounces of warm water.
Ginger: Ginger is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory used in Asian and Indian foods. It is also a powerful stomach aid that promotes healthy digestion and quells nausea by neutralizing too strong stomach acids. Its anti-inflammatory properties are also thought beneficial in arthritis.
Cayenne: That red peppery powder that gives chili and Tabasco sauce their hot zinger quality is also an incredible antioxidant. It contains the compound capsaicin which has been shown to relieve painful joints and is found in many over-the-counter sports rub type medications. Taken internally in food, cayenne/capsaicin can relieve headaches and help drain congested sinuses and lungs, reducing colds and bronchitis symptoms.
Thyme: A highly aromatic spice, thyme has powerful antioxidant, antibacterial and antifungal properties. It has been used for centuries both as a spice in food and as medicine, especially in upper respiratory conditions like colds, bronchitis, and asthma as it calms airways. Tea can also be made of thyme and drank to remove parasites from the body as it helps remove mucus from the intestinal tract. Thyme can also be used to clean/disinfect your chopping board and kitchen counters instead of a chemical disinfectant that can linger and get into your food.
More and more research is done everyday uncovering the numerous health benefits of the common everyday herbs and spices that we’ve been using for years without knowing or appreciating their true health value to us. As I tell my patients, always keep fresh herbs and spices on hand and experiment with some creative recipes to make use of as many of these natural antioxidants as possible. Bon appétit!
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.