Spices and herbs have been used for thousands of years as a way to preserve and flavor food, as well as medicines. Over 2000 years ago, Confucius advised that ginger should be eaten at every meal to improve digestion. Today, many medicines are formulated from spices and herbs.
But still, for most common spices and herbs, not much has been actually proven about health benefits. Yet, there is much evidence that these substances posses significant anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and even anti-tumor properties. Some likely can decrease our risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease.
Spice vs. herb
First, what is the difference between a spice and a herb? The answer is that herbs are derived from the leaves of plants, while spices are derived from other parts of plants—the roots, bark, or seeds.
The main reason they may be so healthy is that, in some cases they may be the most concentrated food source for nutrients called polyphenols. Besides countering the oxidative stresses that our cells constantly face, polyphenols improve the function of cellular enzymes and help regulate the receptors on the surface of our cells.
Practical benefits from spices and herbs
Beyond the scientific explanation why spices and herbs may help us avoid chronic or degenerative diseases, there are more practical reasons why eating them is healthy. We know that we should limit the fat, sugar, and salt in foods, and spices and herbs help us do that. Nutritionist Kate Geagan notes that “Using herbs and spices expands your palette without extra calories, and may decrease the amount of salt, fat, and sugar you use without sacrificing flavor.”
Further, if food if bland and unspiced, we may find it unsatisfying and eat more to try to satisfy our taste. Food that is well-spiced will satisfy us in smaller quantities (=less calories).
Which are the healthiest spices and herbs?
The best research indicates that turmeric, cinnamon, chili peppers, ginger, garlic, and parsley are among the healthiest ones. (While garlic is technically a vegetable, most people regard it as a spice.) We have written specific post articles about some of these, and if you click on the link you can see more details.
But don’t limit yourself just to those spices and herbs. Choose and use the ones you like, and in general, the more the better. Use more of these little morsels of polyphenols and less salt and sugar. Store them properly—away from heat, moisture, and light—and use them before their expiration date. Use them dry or fresh, whatever you prefer, but use them liberally.
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Esta postagem também está disponível em: Portuguese (Brazil)