Spice up your world!

Spices and herbs are probably the most overlooked sources of nutrients. They offer powerful health benefits while adding the flavour to our dishes. Even a small dose may be a powerful provider of antioxidants, anti-inflammatory agents, cancer-fighting constituents, vitamins, minerals, and more. Here are some examples of well-known and widely used herbs and spices with health benefits. 

Curcumin, that is the most recognizable active ingredient of turmeric, seems to be a remarkably powerful antioxidant, helping to fight oxidative damage and boosting the body’s own antioxidant enzymes (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). Oxidative damage is believed to be one of the key mechanisms behind ageing. Curcumin is highly anti-inflammatory (7) and shows brain protective abilities, including fighting Alzheimer’s, reducing the risk of heart disease or relieving arthritis abilities (8, 9, 10, 11, 12).

Cinnamon plays a relevant role in balancing sugar level in blood, thanks to a compound called cinnamaldehyde (1). Other proven health benefits of cinnamon are: antioxidant activity, anti inflammatory activity as well as cholesterol and triglycerides regulatotion (13, 14, 15). Cinnamon is able to  balance blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity (16, 17, 18, 19). The prophylactic dose is typically 0.5-2 teaspoons or 1-6 grams of cinnamon per day.

Sage may be able to improve brain function and memory, among healthy populations as well as  in people with Alzheimer’s disease (20, 21, 22, 23). 

Peppermint oil can improve pain management in irritable bowel syndrome (24, 25, 26), helps to reduce abdominal bloating (27, 28), as well as fight nausea (29, 30, 31, 32).

Holy basil is linked to reduced blood sugar levels before and after meals, as well as treating anxiety and anxiety-related depression (33, 34). Studies show that holy basil can also inhibit the growth of a range of bacteria, yeasts and molds (35, 36).

Cayenne Pepper Contains Capsaicin, Which Helps Reduce Appetite and May Have Anti-Cancer Properties (37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42).

Garlic is well known for its role in combating a common cold (43, 44), reducing total and/or LDL cholesterol by about 10-15% (45, 46, 47) and reducing blood pressure in people with high blood pressure (48, 49, 50). Be aware that overconsumption of raw garlic may lead to stomach and esophagus mucosa damage, opening the gate to bacterial infections.

Ginger can treat nausea and has anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have shown that 1 gram of ginger can treat nausea (51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56). Strong anti-inflammatory properties can help with pain management (57).

Fenugreek Improves blood sugar control (58). As little as 1 gram of fenugreek extract per day can lower blood sugar levels, particularly in diabetics (59, 60, 61, 62, 63).

Fenugreek has been shown to influence insulin activity, leading to significant reductions in blood sugar levels.

Rosemary suppresses allergic responses and nasal congestion.

(64) thanks to its anti-inflammatory effects (65).

Disclaimer: Most herbs in large doses can cause side effects or interact with medications. Use in moderation. Prior to introducing any changes to your diet or lifestyle consult with your physician.

Hope I have convinced you to add some spice to your dishes.

Coach Lucy PhD

Herbs and spices are well covered in the scientific literature. Let’s have a quick look into additional scientific research, focusing on the comprehensive reviews:

“Spices and herbs have been in use for centuries both for culinary and medicinal purposes. Spices not only enhance the flavor, aroma, and color of food and beverages, but they can also protect from acute and chronic diseases[…]. Research over the past decade has reported on the diverse range of health properties that they possess via their bioactive constituents, including sulfur-containing compounds, tannins, alkaloids, phenolic diterpenes, and vitamins, especially flavonoids and polyphenols. Spices and herbs such as clove, rosemary, sage, oregano, and cinnamon are excellent sources of antioxidants with their high content of phenolic compounds.”

Jiang TA. Health Benefits of Culinary Herbs and Spices. J AOAC Int. 2019 Mar

1;102(2):395-411. doi: 10.5740/jaoacint.18-0418. Epub 2019 Jan 16. PMID:


“The antioxidant properties of herbs and spices are of particular interest in view of the impact of oxidative modification of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol in the development of atherosclerosis. There is level III-3 evidence (National Health and Medical Research Council [NHMRC] levels of evidence) that consuming a half to one clove of garlic (or equivalent) daily may have a cholesterol-lowering effect of up to 9%. There is level III-1 evidence that 7.2 g of aged garlic extract has been associated with anti clotting (in-vivo studies), as well as modest reductions in blood pressure (an approximate 5.5% decrease in systolic blood pressure).”

Tapsell LC, Hemphill I, Cobiac L, Patch CS, Sullivan DR, Fenech M, Roodenrys

S, Keogh JB, Clifton PM, Williams PG, Fazio VA, Inge KE. Health benefits of

herbs and spices: the past, the present, the future. Med J Aust. 2006 Aug

21;185(S4):S1-S24. PMID: 17022438.

“[..] these foods (red. culinary herbs and spices) may have a role to play in the prevention of non-communicable chronic diseases (CNCDs). Human studies are now beginning to provide insights into the significance of the potential health benefits of CHS in a dietary context, particularly concerning their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and their impact on glucose homeostasis, appetite and the consumption of low/reduced fat, salt and sugar foods.”

Opara EI. Culinary herbs and spices: what can human studies tell us about

their role in the prevention of chronic non-communicable diseases? J Sci Food

Agric. 2019 Aug 15;99(10):4511-4517. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.9658. Epub 2019 Mar 25.

PMID: 30815875.

“Although the daily intake of herbs and spices is very low compared to most other foods, this important set of food seasoning agents should not be underestimated, especially given their potential benefits to human health.”

Review Genes Nutr

Vázquez-Fresno R, Rosana ARR, Sajed T, Onookome-Okome T, Wishart NA, Wishart

DS. Herbs and Spices- Biomarkers of Intake Based on Human Intervention Studies –

A Systematic Review. Genes Nutr. 2019 May 22;14:18. doi:

10.1186/s12263-019-0636-8. PMID: 31143299; PMCID: PMC6532192.

“The results of this study, taken together with the known scientific literature, indicated that the anti-diabetic potential of common culinary herbs and spices was the result of the collective action of more than one bioactive compound regulating and restoring several dysregulated and interconnected diabetic biological processes.”

Pereira ASP, Banegas-Luna AJ, Peña-García J, Pérez-Sánchez H, Apostolides Z.

Evaluation of the Anti-Diabetic Activity of Some Common Herbs and Spices:

Providing New Insights with Inverse Virtual Screening. Molecules. 2019 Nov

7;24(22):4030. doi: 10.3390/molecules24224030. PMID: 31703341; PMCID:


“A growing body of research has demonstrated that the commonly used herbs and spices such as garlic, black cumin, cloves, cinnamon, thyme, allspices, bay leaves, mustard, and rosemary, possess antimicrobial properties that, in some cases, can be used therapeutically. Other spices, such as saffron, a food colorant; turmeric, a yellow colored spice; tea, either green or black, and flaxseed do contain potent phytochemicals, including carotenoids, curcumins, catechins, lignan respectively, which provide significant protection against cancer.“

Lai PK, Roy J. Antimicrobial and chemopreventive properties of herbs and

spices. Curr Med Chem. 2004 Jun;11(11):1451-60. doi: 10.2174/0929867043365107.

PMID: 15180577.

More related articles:

Leja KB, Czaczyk K. The industrial potential of herbs and spices – a mini

review. Acta Sci Pol Technol Aliment. 2016 Oct-Dec;15(4):353-365. doi:

10.17306/J.AFS.2016.4.34. PMID: 28071013.

Opara EI, Chohan M. Culinary herbs and spices: their bioactive properties,

the contribution of polyphenols and the challenges in deducing their true health

benefits. Int J Mol Sci. 2014 Oct 22;15(10):19183-202. doi:

10.3390/ijms151019183. PMID: 25340982; PMCID: PMC4227268.

Vallverdú-Queralt A, Regueiro J, Martínez-Huélamo M, Rinaldi Alvarenga JF,

Leal LN, Lamuela-Raventos RM. A comprehensive study on the phenolic profile of

widely used culinary herbs and spices: rosemary, thyme, oregano, cinnamon, cumin

and bay. Food Chem. 2014 Jul 1;154:299-307. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2013.12.106.

Epub 2014 Jan 8. PMID: 24518346.

Rakhi NK, Tuwani R, Mukherjee J, Bagler G. Data-driven analysis of biomedical

literature suggests broad-spectrum benefits of culinary herbs and spices. PLoS

One. 2018 May 29;13(5):e0198030. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0198030. PMID:

29813110; PMCID: PMC5973616.

Vázquez-Fresno R, Rosana ARR, Sajed T, Onookome-Okome T, Wishart NA, Wishart

DS. Herbs and Spices- Biomarkers of Intake Based on Human Intervention Studies –

A Systematic Review. Genes Nutr. 2019 May 22;14:18. doi:

10.1186/s12263-019-0636-8. PMID: 31143299; PMCID: PMC6532192.

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