Many chronic diseases result from inflammation at a cellular level. Reducing this inflammation is the key to achieving optimal levels of immunity, energy, recovery, and mental clarity. Inflammation and oxidation are closely related: antioxidants quell free radicals that damage cells and lead to inflammation. Nutrients can also prevent inflammation through other pathways, notably by turning off genes that trigger inflammatory proteins or processes, by boosting the concentration of proteins that counter inflammation, and bringing positive change in gut health.
Most vegetables have high levels of the types of nutrients that also have this effect, as do omega 3 rich wild fish, and grass fed meats. But herbs and spices deserve a special mention as they are so rich considering their concentrated nature; just half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon has as many antioxidants as half a cup of blueberries, and half a teaspoon of dried oregano has the antioxidant power of three cups of raw spinach.
For thousands of years medical practitioners have known this and have used herbs and spices to treat health ailments.
The Healthful 7:
Turmerics benefits stem largely from its chief component; curcumin - this potent antioxidant gives turmeric its vibrant yellow colour. Scientific studies in recent decades confirm that turmeric has “antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and anticancer activities and thus has a potential against many chronic illnesses. Try using turmeric in meat or fish marinades, or add it to tea or make a great soup with it.
Capsaicin is the compound responsible for the medicinal properties of cayenne pepper. It was used as a food and medicine by Native American indians as well as largely throughout Asia to relieve digestive and circulatory issues. It contains a range of flavenoids and carotenoids which are the antioxidants that protect against cellular damage.
Another spice that has been used for centuries to combat imflammation, pain, sore throats and general aches. Gingerols, shogaols, and paradols are a group of ginger compounds that act like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g., ibuprofen). Ginger is easy to use in many foods, and can even be applied directly to painful joints, where it has a similar effect to capsaicin.
Cinnamon’s claim to fame is its ability to lower blood sugar in diabetics by activating insulin receptors. Like many other herbs and spices, cinnamon also has a host of compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can lessen the likelihood of cellular damage and chronic disease. Try adding cinnamon to your breakfast porridge, or sprinkled over a fruit salad.
Cloves contain eugenol, a compound similar to, but more potent than cinnamon’s cinnamaldehye, and thus the spice also protects against the inflammation that underlies heart disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases.
Carnosic acid and carnosol are the chief anti-inflammatory molecules that give sage its health benefits and contribute to its flavor and aroma. Sage is studied for its protective effect against inflammation-based neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s. The herb also shows promise for improving memory and concentration, and lessening anxiety.
Camphor, another sage constituent, kills bacteria and fungi, and still other sage-derived compounds are effective antivirals. In the kitchen, sage goes well with winter winter veg and meat roasts.
Rosemary contains some of the same antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds as sage, and yet another that’s appropriately named “rosmarinic acid”.
Both rosemary and sage act by increasing the potent free radical that’s associated with fighting chronic inflammation. This activity is greatest for the cooked herb, so use rosemary to flavor roasted vegetables, meats, or other cooked dishes.
Hint - If you’re going to cook something in oil, add some rosemary to the oil to allow its antioxidants to help preserve the oil from oxidation.