Herbs and spices add an excellent flavor boost to food, but there is growing evidence that they are also beneficial for our health. Traditional medicine has been using herbs and spices for centuries to treat common ailments and now modern science is starting to support some of these theories.
The use of herbs and spices as an alternative to salt and fat for giving flavor to cooking is also beneficial for our health, as these substances contain no calories and unlike salt have no potentially harmful effects if consumed in large quantities.
Although research is in its early stages and in many cases further studies are required to confirm benefits and make recommendations for intake, there is no doubt that herbs and spices have the potential to improve our health.
As there are few negative effects of consuming herbs and spices and they are also a welcome addition to many dishes, there is certainly no harm in including a wide variety in a healthy diet.
Common herbs and spices with potential health benefits
A 2010 review of scientific evidence regarding cinnamon and its health benefits suggested numerous possible mechanisms by which cinnamon may have positive effects on health. Cinnamon has been suggested to have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antitumor, cholesterol lowering effects, as well as possibly having benefits for the immune and cardiovascular systems.
Studies in humans and animals have also suggested that cinnamon may have the potential to induce insulin production, a useful function which may be beneficial in the treatment of type two diabetes, although further research is needed before definitive conclusions can be made.
The compound that is responsible for the heat of pepper and chili, known as capsaicin, is thought to have numerous health benefits, including benefits for cardiovascular health, aiding digestion, and relieving pain.
It has also been suggested that this compound may have an effect on metabolic rate and increase fat burning ability, thus offering a potential role in weight loss.
Research has suggested a possible cancer protective effect of this common spice, as well as possible benefits for blood lipid levels. It has also been suggested that there may be a potential benefits to learning and memory retention.
The popular ingredient in herbal tea commonly thought to be beneficial in enhancing sleep and relaxation may have other health benefits according to a 2006 review.
The flower contains many phenolic compounds and has moderate antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. It has also shown antiplatelet activity.
Animal models have also suggested anti-inflammatory action and possible cholesterol lowering effects; however, once again more human based research is required into these areas. Strangely, there is no clinical evidence to support the sedative properties of chamomile.
Cilantro has been found to be effective in preventing common foodborne bacteria Lysteria Monocytogenes which can be dangerous to those with weakened immune systems or to unborn babies.
The component that gives turmeric its orange-yellow color, known as curcumin is thought to have numerous health benefits. Studies have suggested that this compound may beneficial in the treatment of inflammatory diseases such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease and psoriasis, although more in depth studies are required before recommendations regarding consumption can be made.
High phytochemical containing herbs and spices
A group of common herbs and vegetables known as umbelliferous vegetables are thought to particularly high in phytochemicals. Dill, anise, parsley and cilantro, as well as vegetables, celery, carrots and parsnips, are thought to have protective effects due to their high concentration of natural antioxidants, which are also found in garlic and ginger. T
hese compounds have been suggested to be beneficial in protection from or treatment of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and hypertension.
Herbs with anticancer properties
The National Cancer Institute has identified a collection of common herbs which possess anti-cancer properties. These include, garlic, onions and chives, which contain a compound called Allium, members of the mint family such as basil, oregano, rosemary, sage and thyme; members of the Zingiberaceae family such as turmeric and ginger, liquorice root, green tea and flax, as well as the previously mentioned Umbelliferae family vegetables.
References used in this article