Herbs and Spices: How Food Affects Health

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Using herbs, spices, and other seasonings will help flavor your food without adding extra sodium, calories, sugar, or fat.

There are many alternatives to salt when it comes to flavoring your food. I am a big fan of experimenting with herbs, unsalted seasonings, and spices. Aside from boosting flavor, many of these extras possess antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that may help contribute to heart health, beautiful skin and hair , and help reduce your risk of osteoporosis, arthritis , type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure , cataracts, and macular degeneration — all this without adding extra sodium, calories, sugar, or fat to your food.

Try using nutrient-packed fresh and dried herbs, unsalted seasoning blends, garlic powder, and ginger to help spruce up dressings, sauces, salads, soups, pasta dishes, vegetables, meat, and fish. And be liberal with spices: Hot and spicy flavors from chili peppers, cayenne, curry, cumin, and coriander encourage slower eating, which can help you stay on track with your weight-loss goals. (Just keep in mind that some people with IBS are sensitive to spicy foods and may experience discomfort after eating them.) In addition, baking spices, like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom, are a terrific, calorie-free way to lend sweetness to breakfast foods and desserts without pouring on the sugar.

You may have noticed that some herbs and spices are sold as supplements (oregano oil or capsules of cinnamon extract, for example). Unless your doctor recommends otherwise, “it’s best to eat the herb or spice instead of taking it in pill form,” Youdim says.

She says there aren’t many regulations about supplements and there’s little government oversight. So a capsule may not have the amount of something that it claims to, or it may have unhealthy additives.

“Food is an army,” Moreno says. “Compounds from herbs and spices as well as the other foods you’re eating work together to provide health benefits. We don’t know if you get the same result from taking a single ingredient as a supplement.”