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The Top 8 Herbs And Spices That Improve Your Health

herbs and spices

Historically, people consumed herbs and spices every day. These potent ingredients added flavor to dishes and acted as preservatives, keeping food fresher for longer. 

These days, the consumption of herbs and spices is lower. Industrial food production has reduced the variety of plants consumed significantly, with most Americans getting the bulk of their calories from only four crops: wheat, soy, corn, and rice. 

Unfortunately, that’s a problem. Scientific research shows that herbs and spices have more health-enhancing compounds, weight-for-weight, than any other food category on Earth. But most Americans simply aren’t getting enough.

Part of the reason for this is the public conversation on nutrition. Most social media discussions revolve around macronutrient ratios or novel foods. Hardly anyone is out there extolling the benefits of herbs and spices to the masses. 

This post aims to change the status quo by running through some of the top herbs and spices for your health. By the end of reading it, you should have a list of ingredients to pick up from the store on your next trip. 

Our Top Spices For Health And Wellbeing

Here’s our curated list of top spices for health and wellbeing: 

Turmeric

Turmeric

Coming in at number one on the list is turmeric, a slightly sour yellow spice used in traditional Indian and Nepalese cooking. Researchers love this food because of its potent anti-inflammatory effects. Turmeric can neutralize free radicals emitted from metabolic processes while enhancing endogenous antioxidants like superoxide dismutase and glutathione. 

Some doctors prescribe turmeric as an adjunct therapy for inflammatory arthritic conditions. Research shows the compound works similarly to common non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) but without the unpleasant side effects. It may also help prevent a long list of nasty chronic diseases, including: 

  • Cancer
  • Alzheimer’s 
  • Depression

Rosemary

Rosemary

Rosemary is another common herb that most people overlook (except perhaps at Easter). However, some researchers credit it with cultivating long-lived human populations with a high proportion of centenarians, such as the hamlet of Acciaroli in Italy, where residents eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

Rosemary has a long list of potential health benefits similar to turmeric. For instance, the rosmarinic acids it contains have potent antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties, ideal for immune support. 

Rosemary may also reduce stress and anxiety. Randomized controlled trials on students found it boosted their sleep quality and reduced nervousness compared to placebo. 

Lastly, rosemary may have profound effects on memory and concentration. Studies suggest that eating the herb (or inhaling its essential oils during aromatherapy) can enhance their cognitive performance and help them get more done. 

Fenugreek

Fenugreek

Like rosemary, ancient cultures also used fenugreek as a medicine. Most stores sell seed chunks, but you can also consume the plant’s leaves (dried or otherwise). 

Fenugreek is famous for its ability to enhance human milk production. Mothers who drink herbal tea containing the herb can more than double their breast output, according to some studies.

Fenugreek can also have positive effects on male hormonal balance. Men over 60 taking the herb for six weeks along with multivitamins may see dramatic increases in sexual function and libido.  

Other benefits of fenugreek include appetite control, statin-like cholesterol-lowering effects, reduced heartburn and indigestion, and blood sugar regulation. The spice improves insulin sensitivity and enables better responses to food ingestion. 

Ginger

Ginger

Ginger is another food praised throughout history for its healing and medicinal effects. It’s also safe: people have been consuming it in significant quantities for thousands of years, fresh and dried. 

Ginger’s primary medicinal use today is to fight nausea from morning sickness and migraines. It can also help prevent vomiting among patients undergoing surgery or those taking chemotherapy-related drugs. 

The root appears to do this through the action of gingerol, the principal phytonutrient it contains. The substance calms receptors in the stomach, averting unnecessary nausea and vomiting. 

Other benefits of ginger include: 

  • Lowering blood sugar levels
  • Treating chronic indigestion (including abdominal pain, bloating, and belching that seems to happen for no reason)
  • Reducing menstrual pain in some women
  • Lowering cholesterol levels in at-risk people
  • Helping with osteoarthritis 

Cayenne

Cayenne

Cayenne is also a health-promoting spice, mainly because of the compound that makes it hot. That it is on this list will be surprising to many, but researchers now believe people who consume it are healthier and live longer than those who don’t. 


For example, a 2021 review study found that individuals who consume chili peppers regularly reduce their chances of dying from all causes. Other studies have found that certain chili pepper compounds reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by improving blood vessel function.  

Capsaicin is the active compound in cayenne. The plant developed it to fight off predators, but researchers are investigating whether applying it to the skin could offer pain relief. 

Capsaicin feels painful to eat, which is why researchers were skeptical chilis could improve health. However, eating cayenne may work by inducing a hormetic effect – the idea that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Chili challenges the body, causing mild stress similar to exercise that causes it to come back stronger. 

Peppermint

Peppermint

Peppermint is another herb that improves your health and should be on your grocery list. People traditionally used it in tea, but you can add it to soups, stews, and salads. 

Peppermint’s main benefit is its ability to improve digestive discomfort for people with bloating, indigestion, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Studies show that patients taking peppermint oil capsules can see marked symptom improvements in just two weeks. Peppermint essential oils aromatherapy diffusers can also reduce nausea and cut the risk of vomiting in people undergoing chemotherapy. 

Added to this, peppermint may offer relief for migraines and tension headaches, similar to ginger. The cooling menthol it contains could improve blood flow to the cerebral area while freshening breath and relieving clogged sinuses simultaneously.

Cocoa

Cocoa

Cocoa is another health-improving spice that should be on your list. As one of the most complex foods on Earth, containing thousands of diverse phytonutrients, researchers are still unpicking how it could improve health. 

Cocoa powder is the best option because it is sugar-free and defatted. Because of this, it contains a high concentration of desirable phytonutrients and fewer substances you don’t want. 

Researchers believe cocoa can reduce high blood pressure by boosting nitric oxide levels in the bloodstream. This compound helps arteries relax and widen, reducing the pressure inside them. 

Cocoa may also reduce your risk of wrinkles. Older people taking the spice for six months saw elasticity improve significantly. 

Finally, cocoa can aid in weight control. Researchers believe it can reduce appetite and inflammation while increasing fat oxidation ( burning fat stores inside the body). 

Cumin

Cumin

Finally, we have cumin, a popular spice in Middle Eastern and South Asian cuisine. It is a rich source of iron, with one teaspoon containing 17.5% of an adult’s recommended daily allowance (RDA). 

Cumin’s medicinal effects come from the terpenes, phenols, and alkaloids it contains. The compounds work as potent antioxidants, reducing the production of free radicals that could harm blood vessels and the production of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which worsen diabetes. 

AGEs cause cross-linking between sugar and protein molecules, preventing cells from working normally. Over time, they can disrupt function in the nerves, small blood vessels, eyes, and kidneys. However, cumin can prevent this activity, potentially helping patients’ blood vessels stay younger for longer. 

Tips For Adding Herbs And Spices To Your Diet

Herbs and spices are natural foods, but you still need to be careful. Overdoing it or eating too many of the wrong ingredients can cause harm. 

Here are some quick tips to follow if you are considering adding herbs and spices to your diet: 

Eat Culinary Quantities

Most research shows you can get the full effects of herbs and spices by eating culinary quantities. You don’t need to megadose.

Aim for a couple of teaspoons of most spices at a maximum. Also, take regular breaks from nutmeg, cassia cinnamon, St. John’s wort, and other plants with long-term toxicity risks.

Use A Combination Of Fresh And Dried Herbs

The phytonutrient composition of herbs and spices varies depending on whether you eat them fresh or dry. Therefore, both can be beneficial. 

Add Spices To Sweet Dishes

Most people add spices to savory dishes only. However, you can get more in your diet by including them in sweet ones. For example, cinnamon goes well with apples, while cocoa can work with tart cherries.

Whip-Up Some Spice Blends

Assembling various spice blends makes it more straightforward to add flavor to meals, encouraging you to consume more. Having one spice blend for lamb and another for beef steaks ready to go makes it easier to use them. 

Add Spices Gradually

Don’t overdo it with herb and spice quantities if you are new to consuming them. Start small and work your way up to avoid recipe disasters that put you off for life. 

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