8 Powerful Reasons to Cook With Herbs and Spices

Published on 05/16/2014 by

You already love adding herbs and spices to your pasta recipes, right? Well, did you know that when you cook with herbs and spices, you are helping to boost your overall health? Those tiny little leaves are amazingly powerful little health boosters!

Find out how in this guest post by Bonnie R Giller

Photo: Herbs

You probably have a cabinet filled with them, or maybe even a fancy rack strategically placed on your counter as a decoration with an aesthetically appealing assortment of them. However, you probably don't know much about them other than the flavor they provide in your cooking. You might be surprised to learn that herbs and spices actually carry significant amounts of vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants that, when added to food, do a world of good for your health. Herbs and spices have been used medicinally for years, but did you know that they can also help you fight cancer, improve heart health and even help you maintain your healthy weight? Keep reading to learn more about the health benefits herbs and spices can provide and which ones you can find these benefits in.

Note: This article discusses using herbs and spices as flavorings and seasonings for food, not as a supplement.

Immune function:

Many herbs and spices contain vast amounts of vitamins and minerals that aid in boosting the immune system to ensure proper function. Many herbs and spices also contain anti-microbial, anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties that play important roles in fighting foreign invaders that could potentially wreak havoc on your immune system. Keeping your immune system functioning properly can help you fight illnesses and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Basil, chives, cloves, cumin seeds, marjoram, nutmeg, oregano, peppermint, rosemary, sage and tarragon are among some of the herbs and spices that contain these immune system promoting benefits.

Cancer fighting properties:

A wide array of herbs and spices contain polyphenol and anti-oxidants, which help destroy free radicals that can lead to cancer. Among other things such as lifestyle, family history and genetics, some processes in the body that cause cancer result from oxidative stress and inflammation. Polyphenols and anti-oxidants are powerful cancer-fighting compounds in that they fight oxidation of free radicals and inflammation in the body. In fact, a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition highlighted the benefits of adding a rosmarinic acid mixture of oregano and rosemary to hamburger meat before cooking had on preventing cancer causing oxidative stress. Specific herbs and spices that contain cancer-fighting compounds include cardamom, cinnamon, chives, cumin, curry, oregano, rosemary and turmeric.

Digestive Health:

Some herbs and spices such as ginger and peppermint are notable for possessing stomach soothing properties. Ginger aids in digestion by alleviating symptoms of gastrointestinal distress and relieving nausea. It promotes elimination of intestinal gas and acts as an antispasmodic by relaxing and soothing the intestinal tract. Peppermint helps to relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome such as indigestion, dyspepsia, and muscle spasms. Marjoram is an aromatic herb in the mint family and has also been shown to play a role in helping digestion in a number of ways such as relieving nausea, alleviating gas, soothing stomach cramps and relieving constipation. Other herbs and spices, such as chives, play a role in keeping the digestive system functioning properly. Chives have anti-bacterial effects that can aid in proper digestion and increased utilization of nutrients. Cardamom, cinnamon, cumin and nutmeg are some other herbs and spices that have digestive system benefits.

Heart Health benefits:

Several herbs and spices contain cardiovascular benefits. Basil is a very good source of vitamin A through its concentration of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant that protects the cells that form the lining of your blood vessels from free radical damage and helps prevent free radicals from oxidizing cholesterol in the bloodstream. Why is this important? Because oxidized cholesterol is what builds up in your blood vessel walls and causes atherosclerosis which typically can result in a heart attack or stroke. Basil is also a good source of magnesium which is important for cardiovascular health by helping the muscles and blood vessels relax and improving blood flow, lessening the risk of irregular heartbeats and spasms of the heart muscle or blood vessels. Parsley is a good source of folic acid which plays an important role in maintaining heart health. Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin which has been linked to provide cardiovascular protection by lowering cholesterol. Oregano and rosemary also contain antioxidants to protect against oxidative stress and atherosclerosis. Chives are members of the allicin family. Allicin has been linked to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Other cardiovascular protective herbs and spices are cayenne pepper, cinnamon, chili peppers and nutmeg.

Healthy Weight:

Cayenne pepper and chili peppers have been linked to the promotion and maintenance of healthy weight. This is because both spices have been shown to boost metabolism. A study published in 2011 at Purdue University found that participants burned more calories after meals that consisted of food with only a half a teaspoon of dried, ground cayenne pepper than those who didn't consume food with cayenne pepper. These results were attributed to the "burn" of the dried red pepper which stimulated a rise in body temperature, greater energy expenditure and increased appetite control. Chili peppers contain the same property that produces the "burn" like cayenne pepper.

Mental health, mood and memory:

A few herbs and spices have even been linked to provide mental health benefits. Sage has been found to improve mood and mental performance in younger people, and to improve memory and attention in older adults. It's been suggested that a sage extract can help enhance thinking and learning in older adults with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease. Research has also shown saffron and curry to protect against or promote improvement in Alzheimer's symptoms. Nutmeg has been linked to improvements in memory and rosemary aids in improving concentration since it has been shown to increase blood flow to the brain.

Anti-Inflammatory:

Many of the vitamins, mineral and antioxidants in herbs and spices are also beneficial in providing anti-inflammatory properties. The high vitamin C content in parsley has been shown to offer protection against inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis. Additionally, turmeric has long been used as an anti-inflammatory remedy in China and India and is used for joint health in the United States. Basil, curry, rosemary and sage also possess anti-inflammatory benefits.

Respiratory benefits:

Thyme has a wide array of medicinal uses for chest and respiratory problems including coughs, bronchitis, and chest congestion. Cayenne pepper contains the compound capsaicin, which has been studied to open up and drain congested nasal passages.

As you can see, herbs and spices contain many properties that can be beneficial for improving and maintaining your health and bodily functions. Set a goal and start experimenting with a new herb and/or spices each week. Your body and your taste buds will thank you!

Join the FREE Cut the Salt, Kick up the Taste Challenge at http://www.brghealth.com/cutsalt and learn more about herbs and spices and how to use them in cooking. Gifts and prizes are being awarded.

Bonnie R. Giller helps chronic dieters and those struggling with their weight take back control so they can get the healthy body and life they want. She does this by creating a tailored solution that combines three essential ingredients: a healthy mindset, nutrition education and caring support. The result is they lose weight, keep it off without dieting and achieve a sense of relief by being freed from the ties of dieting.

Bonnie is a registered dietitian, certified dietitian-nutritionist and certified diabetes educator. She is also a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor and she teaches people to tune into their internal hunger and satiety signals to guide their eating.

For more information on programs and services, visit http://www.brghealth.com

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