7 Herbs and Spices for Good Health
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
LifeTime WeightLoss in Becca Hurt, Functional Medicine, Functional Nutrition, Healthy Cooking, Nutrition, Spices, food as medicine, herbs

While we give careful consideration to the foods we buy in adopting the Healthy Way of Eating, how we cook them has the power to add ample benefit. Simple seasonings we might include for flavor could also support our overall health. Additionally, many herbs can offer medicinal benefits in teas, capsules or topical applications – all without the unwanted side effects of many over-the-counter products. It’s a testament to the power of food as functional to our health and wellbeing. Read on to see seven healthy and flavorful additions you can make to your cooking and self-care routines!

Cinnamon

This spice is a great complement to many foods and beverages – and offers numerous health benefits as well. Research has demonstrated its ability to slow digestion and, consequently, reduce the rise in blood sugar after eating. Some research studies have also shown cinnamon to increase insulin action, reduce fasting blood sugar, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol in people with type II diabetes. Cinnamon has also shown anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties, including for the problematic yeast, Candida.  It’s available in either powder or stick (“quill”) form and should be stored in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dry and dark place. Typically, ground cinnamon will last approximately 6 months, while stick cinnamon may last up to one year. To extend its shelf life, store it in the refrigerator. I add cinnamon to my oatmeal, coffee, warmed almond milk, certain vegetables and curries.

Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne pepper is hot and spicy and found in chili pepper. The hotness produced by cayenne is largely due to its high concentration of capsaicin. The hotter the chili pepper, the more capsaicin and antioxidants it contains! Capsaicin has been shown to help fight inflammation, clear congestion and aid digestion by stimulating the digestive tract and increasing the flow of digestive enzymes and gastric juice production. Preliminary research also suggests that capsaicin may help fight the buildup of body fat. Cayenne pepper comes in powder form and can be a great addition to any vegetable sauté or bean dish or can be combined with lemon juice to complement cooked bitter greens such as kale and collard greens.

Ginger

This herb can be used fresh, dried, powdered or as either a juice or oil! As someone who is fairly susceptible to motion sickness and dizziness while traveling, I swear by ginger’s ability to alleviate gastrointestinal distress and reduce motion sickness. Ginger’s potent anti-inflammatory compounds have been shown in some research studies to reduce pain levels and improve mobility in people with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. Fresh ginger contains higher levels of these anti-inflammatory compounds compared to the dried form of the spice. When stored unpeeled and in the freezer, fresh ginger can keep up to six months or in the refrigerator (peeled) up to three weeks. Ginger is a flavorful spice to add to rice dishes and stir-fries. It also couples well with meat, poultry and fish.

Turmeric

Tumeric, which comes from the root of the Curcuma longa plant, has long been used medicinally in Chinese and Indian practices as a potent anti-inflammatory agent. Research has shown that curcumin offers numerous health benefits, including supporting joint health and gastrointestinal function as well as cardiovascular function by helping to maintain the body’s normal inflammatory response. It also acts as a powerful antioxidant! Many of my clients have enjoyed benefits to their health and fitness from a curcumin-based supplement-- Meriva-500, which can help alleviate painful joint inflammation from arthritis and help them recover from workouts more effectively.

Oregano

Looking to add some flavor to your meal? Try oregano! Its dark green color indicates its high level of vitamin K as well as antioxidants, and anti-bacterial properties. Oil of oregano has been used for intestinal parasites, allergies, arthritis, colds and flu. Like many herbs, it’s best to choose fresh over the dried form for nutrient potency. Add toward the end of the cooking process to prevent loss of flavor. It’s a great complement to meats, eggs, salad dressings, tomato-based recipes or homemade pizza!

Echinacea

When it comes to healthy living, I think we learn quite a bit from our ancestors. Archaeologists have found that Native Americans may have used this herb for over 400 years as a general “cure-all.” Throughout history, Echinacea has been used to treat malaria, scarlet fever, infections, and wounds. It wasn’t until the introduction of antibiotics that its use started to decline. Today, experts note its ability to boost the immune system, help us fight infections, and shorten the duration of the common cold and flu. It may be useful to try adding 1-2 grams dried root or herb as a tea or 6-9 mL of expressed juice for general immune system stimulation during times of illness.

Lavender

This herb’s wonderful aroma makes it a useful remedy for restlessness, nervousness, depression and insomnia. According to the National Institutes of Health, lavender oil appears to have sedating effects and may relax certain muscles in the body. The name lavender has a Latin root, lavare, meaning “to wash.” Added to soaps, lotions, and natural room sprays, it creates a calming effect when inhaled. I personally enjoy lavender as an essential oil and add it to baths or apply it topically to help heal cuts and scrapes. Consider this herb’s ability to help decrease stress not only good for the mind but good for your body. Chronic stress increases cortisol, which contributes to insulin resistance and increased belly fat. Try adding lavender to your daily routine as an essential oil, a tea or an herb for steaks (English lavender is the edible version appropriate for cooking).

Which of the above herbs and spices do you use on a regular basis? Do you have others you’d add to the list? Share your favorites, and thanks for reading, everyone!

Written by Becca Hurt, MS, RD, Program Manager of Life Time WeightLoss

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

 

 

 

 

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