An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but there’s a new kid in town keeping cancer at bay. While fruits and vegetables have long stood out as the antioxidant-packed super stars of the health-food family, their plant-based cousins, herbs and spices, have recently started giving them a run for their nutrients.
Name a plant part, and odds are it is used as an herb or spice—leaves, bark, roots, nuts and berries all have their flavor-adding advantages. The plant compounds known as polyphenols are what pack most of the nutritional punch in seasonings and have been shown to lower individuals’ risk of chronic diseases like cancer and diabetes. Other spices contain compounds that work throughout the body to reduce inflammation, which has been closely linked to heart disease in recent years.
According to WebMD, some herbs and spices outshine the rest. Here’s a short list of the most potent ones with a description of how a pinch can turn up the flavor while boosting your body’s defenses.
Cinnamon: Just 1 teaspoon each day can lower blood glucose levels and ward off Type 2 diabetes, while reducing cholesterol in adults. Add cinnamon and apple chunks to your next bowl of oatmeal for a fall-inspired breakfast of champions.
Chili Peppers: The active compound capsaicin combines antioxidants with anti-inflammatory elements that may help cells ward off cancer. Sprinkling roasted red pepper flakes onto rice, pasta and vegetable dishes is an easy way to up your intake and lower inflammation.
Rosemary: Gene mutations can occur at any time in life, not just before we’re born. Compounds in rosemary may prevent cancer-causing gene mutations while repairing damaged blood vessels that keep a steady blood supply to vital organs. Use rosemary to flavor chicken or pair it with other herbs in pasta dishes to really treat your taste buds.
Garlic: A standout among herbs and spices, garlic has been shown to inhibit the metabolic processes of tumor cells and may even destroy them. Combine sautéed garlic with red pepper flakes and rosemary in pasta for an Italian feast!
Dried varieties have a higher antioxidant concentration and often require just pinches to make a bold flavor statement. If you are lucky enough to have access to fresh herbs and spices, you can enjoy the same benefits by increasing the amount added to your dishes.
To keep chronic diseases away and your palate guessing, try combining different herbs and spices or adding new ones to your typical rotation—after all, variety is the spice of life!