7 Reasons to Add Herbs and Spices to Your Diet


Studies on herbs and spices show they have promising health effects. Culinary spices like turmeric, black pepper, cloves, and ginger, and herbs like rosemary, sage, and oregano can contribute to the prevention of diseases like cancer, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, cardiovascular diseases, and digestive problems. Research shows they are packed with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that support all the systems in your body (1). 

At Hintsa, nutrition is one of the crucial elements of our holistic wellbeing philosophy. A nourishing diet is vital to achieving a high performance in all aspects of our lives. When good nutrition is balanced with the other elements of wellbeing which are part of the Hintsa Circle of Better Life, we can develop our true potential and lead our best lives. 

According to the World Health Organization, nutrition is one of the key factors in chronic disease prevention. Whole foods can fight and prevent chronic diseases and improve the quality of your life. Studies show that herbs and spices are powerful additions to your diet because they protect many organs and systems in your body (2). Their most notable health benefit, according to research, is they can reduce the risk of many forms of cancer, like skin, colon, gastric, bone, prostate, lung, tongue, and breast cancer (3).

What makes herbs and spices special are the unique compounds that fight free radicals (the reactive chemicals that damage your cells), reduce oxidative stress (the damage caused by free radicals), lower inflammation, prevent the formation of tumors, protect your DNA, balance your blood sugar, and enhance digestion. Adding culinary herbs and spices to your daily diet can protect your health in the long term and reduce the risk of cardiovascular, cerebral, metabolic, and digestive disorders.


The impressive benefits of herbs and spices

1.    Cancer prevention

Ginger, red chili, parsley, turmeric, fennel, fenugreek, black cumin, rosemary, kokum, and Asian ginger can be protective against many forms of cancer, according to research (4). A study found that a daily dose of ginger stopped the growth of prostate cancer cells by 56% and diminished the expansion of tumor tissue (5). 

Capsaicin, a compound in red chili, can help to suppress cancerous cells in the skin, stomach, colon, lung, tongue, and prostate. A study discovered that capsaicin was able to induce cell apoptosis (“cell death”) in human gastric cells – a promising finding for gastric cancer prevention (6).  Apigenin, a compound in parsley, can kill cancer cells while keeping normal cells intact. One study found that apigenin decreased skin cancer growth by 52% (7). Curcumin, a component in turmeric and curry, can effectively prevent the formation of cancer cells, according to evidence (8).

2.    Anti-diabetic effects

Fenugreek, cinnamon, and turmeric appear beneficial in the management of diabetes. A 3-year study involving 140 pre-diabetic people found that consuming 10g of fenugreek seeds per day reduced blood glucose (before and after eating), reduced LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and increased insulin. The study concluded that eating only one tablespoon of fenugreek seeds per day could prevent the conversion from pre-diabetes to diabetes (9). 

Evidence shows that turmeric can regulate blood sugar in type 2 diabetes – making it a promising spice for blood sugar control (10). Cinnamon can also help to lower blood sugar, according to studies (11,12). 

3.    Brain Protection

Sage, ginseng, and ashwagandha show neuro-protective and cognition-enhancing properties. In a double-blind study with 20 volunteers over 65 years of age, a 333 mg dose of sage extract significantly improved secondary memory performance and attention (13). In an in-vitro study, ashwagandha extract was able to protect neuron and glial cells from oxidative damage and toxicity (14). Ginseng has the potential to improve memory, learning performance, motor activity, and protect against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease because it promotes neuron survival, supports neuron growth, and fights neurotoxicity, according to research (15).

4.    Atherosclerosis Prevention

Turmeric, black pepper, garlic, and coriander have heart-healthy benefits and anti-atherosclerotic effects. A small study of 10 healthy people found that a daily dose of 500 mg of curcumin (from turmeric) decreased lipids, increased HDL “good” cholesterol, and reduced total cholesterol. Research shows that black pepper can decrease total levels of cholesterol, fatty acids, phospholipids, and triglycerides (16). 

Evidence has found that eating half to one garlic clove per day can decrease total cholesterol levels by 9% in people with high cholesterol (17). Coriander seeds also help to lower cholesterol and triglycerides, while coriander leaves can protect your arteries against clots (18).

5.    DNA Protection and Repair

Paprika, rosemary, ginger, heat-treated turmeric, sage, and cumin can keep your DNA in good shape. Research shows that paprika can prevent breaks in DNA after only 8 days of consumption and turmeric can repair the existing breaks in DNA. It’s important to point out that heat-treated turmeric appears to be the most protective, so make sure to consume it in cooked dishes to reap the benefits (19).

6.    Anti-inflammatory Effects

Evidence shows that both cooked and uncooked rosemary, sage, thyme, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg can protect against inflammatory enzymes, while lemon grass, rosemary and thyme encourage anti-inflammatory enzymes (20).

One study showed that uncooked, cooked, and digested rosemary, sage, and thyme prevented inflammation (21). A different study found that both thyme and oregano essential oils can help to reduce colitis-related inflammation (22). These anti-inflammatory effects could protect you against chronic inflammatory diseases like asthma, hepatitis, colitis, and sinusitis – a pretty good reason to add more herbs to your plate.  (23).

7.    Improved Digestion

Ginger, chamomile, and turmeric can enhance digestion and support digestive problems. A study with 24 healthy people found that ginger made the stomach process food 50% faster than a placebo (24). This finding suggests ginger could improve and speed up digestion.

Turmeric is another digestive aid: A study found that mixing turmeric with other spices such as coriander, red chili, black pepper, and cumin, stimulated bile flow and bile acid secretion, which improves digestion (25). Chamomile can be effective at treating colic and diarrhea, especially in children (26).


Are you eating enough herbs and spices?

Adding herbs and spices to your diet is easier than you think. You can prepare delicious teas, sneak them into soups and stews, sprinkle them over salads, add them to stir fries or roasted veggies, drink them in juices and smoothies, and much more.

Here are a few ways you can start nourishing your body with herbs and spices right away:

  • Make warm and comforting tea with dried or fresh peppermint, chamomile, or ginger. 
  • Prepare “golden milk” by mixing turmeric and ginger in a warm glass of plant-based milk. 
  • Sprinkle turmeric in sautéed vegetables and stews.
  • Freeze herbs like oregano, rosemary, basil and thyme by pouring olive oil into ice cube trays, adding your herbs to it, and storing the tray in the freezer. 
  • Add fenugreek seeds to smoothies and oatmeal.
  • Add chopped parsley or coriander to your salads or over freshly cooked rice. 
  • Sprinkle cinnamon over porridges. 
  • Boost scrambled eggs or omelets with some minced garlic, and a dash of black pepper, or cayenne pepper.


Herbs and spices can improve your health overall

Scientific research confirms what many ancient cultures already suspected: Herbs and spices have abundant health benefits that can protect you, prevent diseases, and keep you healthy in the long-term. Research shows they can be especially beneficial in cancer prevention, diabetes prevention, brain protection, atherosclerosis prevention, DNA repair, reducing inflammation, and improving digestion.   Even though some of the current evidence is based on animal and cellular studies, the results are still ample and significant. For instance, due to the rigorous nature of research, sometimes only the active ingredient is used to determine the efficacy of the culinary herb or spice.

Ancient cultures – like the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians - have been using herbs and spices medicinally and in the kitchen for thousands of years, both for their healing properties and their power to enhance the taste and flavor of food. By spicing up your dishes and adding herbs to your diet you can improve your health in a delicious way. 

The benefits of proper nutrition can be amplified when you cultivate all the areas of wellness that are part of the Hintsa Circle of Better Life.  Our approach at Hintsa focuses on helping you achieve a happy, healthy, and successful life through a holistic philosophy that optimizes all the areas of your wellbeing.


Lisa Fouladi, Clinical Nutritionist
Lisa Fouladi is a Clinical Nutritionist and Member of Hintsa Nutrition Science team. She supports busy people regain their energy and zest for life through nutrition. Her approach is holistic and evidence based.


References:

1. Rubió, Motilva & Romero. “Recent advances in biologically active compounds in herbs and spices: a review of the most effective antioxidant and anti-inflammatory active principles.” (2013)
2. Tapsell, Hemphill, Cobiac, Patch, Sullivan, Fenech, Roodenrys, Keogh, Clifton, Williams, Fazio & Inge. “Health benefits of herbs and spices: the past, the present, the future.” (2006)
3. Kaefer & Milner. “The Role of Herbs and Spices in Cancer Prevention” (2009)
4. Aggarwal, Kunnumakkara, Harikumar, Tharakan, Sung & Anand. ”Potential of Spice-Derived Phytochemicals for Cancer Prevention” (2008)
5. Karna, Chagani, Gundala, Rida, Asif, Sharma, Gupta & Aneja. “Benefits of whole ginger extract in prostate cancer.” (2012)
6. Kim JD, Kim JM, Pyo JO, Kim SY, Kim BS, Yu R & Han IS. “Capsaicin can alter the expression of tumor forming-related genes which might be followed by induction of apoptosis of a Korean stomach cancer cell line, SNU-1.” (1997)
7. Birt, Mitchell, Gold, Pour & Pinch. “Inhibition of ultraviolet light induced skin carcinogenesis in SKH-1 mice by apigenin, a plant flavonoid.” (1997)
8. Shukla and Gupta. “Apigenin: A Promising Molecule for Cancer Prevention” (2010) 
9. Gaddam, Galla, Thummisetti, Marikanty, Palanisamy & Rao ”Role of Fenugreek in the prevention of type 2 diabetes mellitus in prediabetes” (2015)
10. Prasad & Aggarwal. “Turmeric, the Golden Spice: From Traditional Medicine to Modern Medicine“ in “Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects” (2011)
11. Kim, Hyun & Choung. “Anti-diabetic effect of cinnamon extract on blood glucose in db/db mice.” (2006)
12. Rao & Gan. “Cinnamon: A Multifaceted Medicinal Plant” (2014)
13. Scholey, Tildesley, Ballard, Wesnes, Tasker, Perry & Kennedy. “An extract of Salvia (sage) with anticholinesterase properties improves memory and attention in healthy older volunteers.” (2008) 
14. Shah, Singh, Sarangi, Saxena, Chaudhary, Kaur, Kaul & Wadhwa. “Combinations of Ashwagandha leaf extracts protect brain-derived cells against oxidative stress and induce differentiation.” (2015)
15. Iriti, Vitalini, Fico & Faoro. “Neuroprotective Herbs and Foods from Different Traditional Medicines and Diets” (2010)
16. Vijayakumar, Surya & Nalini. “Antioxidant efficacy of black pepper (Piper nigrum L.) and piperine in rats with high fat diet induced oxidative stress.” (2004)
17. Warshafsky, Kamer & Sivak. “Effect of garlic on total serum cholesterol. A meta-analysis.” (1993)
18. Vasanthi & Parameswari. “Indian Spices for Healthy Heart - An Overview” (2010)
19. Percival, Vanden Heuvel, Nieves & Meadors. “Bioavailability of Herbs and Spices in Humans as Determined by ex vivo Inflammatory Suppression and DNA Strand Breaks” (2012)
20. Opara & Chohan. “Culinary Herbs and Spices: Their Bioactive Properties, the Contribution of Polyphenols and the Challenges in Deducing Their True Health Benefits” (2014)
21. Chohan, Naughton, Jones & Opara. “An investigation of the relationship between the anti-inflammatory activity, polyphenolic content, and antioxidant activities of cooked and in vitro digested culinary herbs.” (2012)
22. Paur, Carlsen, Halvorsen & Blomhoff. “Antioxidants in Herbs and Spices: Roles in Oxidative Stress and Redox Signaling” in “Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects” (2011)
23. Aggarwal, Prasad, Reuter, Kannappan, Yadev, Park, Kim, Gupta, Phromnoi, Sundaram, Prasad, Chaturvedi & Sung. “Identification of novel anti-inflammatory agents from Ayurvedic medicine for prevention of chronic diseases: "reverse pharmacology" and "bedside to bench" approach.” (2011) 
24. Wu, Rayner, Chuah, Changchien, Lu, Chiu, Chiu & Lee. “Effects of ginger on gastric emptying and motility in healthy humans.” (2008)
25. Platel, Rao, Saraswathi & Srinivasan. “Digestive stimulant action of three Indian spice mixes in experimental rats.” (2002)
26. Srivastava, Shankar & Gupta. “Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future.” (2010)