Who would have thought that simply using different herbs and spices to flavor and enhance your foods can boost the nutritional value of your meals and provide amazing health benefits as well? Research shows that adding various spices to your meals is synonymous with promoting health and well-being, as well as increasing the nutritional value of your food without adding any extra calories! Herbs and spices actually add more than just color and flavor, they also increase nutrient density, antioxidant activity, suppress certain cancers, exhibit antibacterial activity, increase your metabolism, reduce blood glucose and blood fat levels, as well as blocking the formation of AGEs (advanced glycation end products), agents that cause inflammation and aging.

The objective of using fresh, natural, whole foods is to create healthful meals that provide you with energy, vitality, improved immunity and resistance to disease. If you are in the process of gradually introducing your family (or yourself!) to this healthier way of eating, using herbs and spices to enhance the color and flavor of your meals may just be your secret weapon for enticing finicky eaters to try something new! Once your taste buds are sensitized to the flavors of real food once again, junk food and processed, packaged “fake” foods will lose their appeal.

Before we get into each specific spice or herb, here are some general benefits:
To inhibit inflammation caused by high blood sugar as well as diabetic tissue damage use cinnamon, cloves, allspice, apple pie spice, pumpkin pie spice, marjoram, thyme and sage.

To bump up antioxidant activity try cloves, cinnamon, coriander, pepper, ginger, garlic, mint, oregano, parsley, sage, lemon balm, marjoram, cumin and onion.

Great inflammation fighters are rosemary, black pepper, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, sage, turmeric and basil.

So where do you begin? I would suggest you not worry so much about whether a particular herb or spice is supposed to be used with a specific food. Experiment, get adventurous, use a variety of different spices and herbs, and create the flavors that appeal to you. To give you an idea of the incredible health benefits that await you, here is a list (by no means exhaustive) of some spices and herbs you can easily find at your health food store or supermarket and the disease fighting properties they have been found to contain:

Black Pepper: This spice aids digestion; is helpful in treating epilepsy, depression and sinusitis. Black pepper contains piperine, which has been proven to enhance the bioavailability of nutrients in other foods and spices. One study revealed that simply by combining the curcumin in turmeric with piperine improved the absorption by 2,000%. Combine black pepper with the other herbs and spices you use as often as possible to increase their effectiveness.

Cayenne Pepper: It contains capsaicin which helps with pain relief and neuropathy, increasing circulation and stimulation of bile, improves digestion. There are several topical pain relieving creams on the market containing capsaicin. It also contains a potent anti-fungal compound called CAY-1.

Cinnamon: Research has shown that a half teaspoon several times a day can effectively lower blood sugar and improve glucose metabolism, as well as lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels. This spice is so versatile – you can use it in whole grain baked goods, cereal, oatmeal, yogurt and even in some Mediterranean meat dishes. It has so many other benefits including relieving muscle and joint pain, stimulating circulation, as well as anti-microbial properties that are effective against E. coli.

Cloves: This oil of this spice has been used for many years as a folk remedy for toothaches. The reason is that it is anti-bacterial and mildly anesthetic. Studies have been conducted on its ability to prevent certain digestive cancers as well as environmental pollution toxicity.

Coriander: Lowering cholesterol levels, improving digestion and anemia, stimulating the production of insulin, which helps your body process sugar properly, as well as lowering blood sugar levels are some of the benefits of this delicious herb.

Chili Peppers: The main substance here is capsaicin which is a very powerful anti-inflammatory compound that not only relieves pain but clears congestion and mucus from lungs and nose (one bite of a pepper can clear your head in seconds!). Other benefits are anti-bacterial action that prevents stomach ulcers, lowering of cholesterol and triglyceride levels and boosting metabolism, which enhances weight loss.

Cumin: This delicious spice popular in Middle Eastern dishes has also been made more popular by TV chefs like Rachel Ray. It has been proven to unclog the waxy substance found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, promoting clear thinking and improving brain speed; it aids in digestion and is helpful in managing carpal tunnel syndrome.

Garlic: This one is an absolute superstar multi-tasker! It has been shown to kill cancer cells and protect against many types of cancers; is a natural antibiotic and antiviral agent that has even been effective against antibiotic resistant bacteria; has been used to treat and prevent colds, flu, candida yeast infections, acne; and produces hydrogen sulfide which prevents damage to the heart muscle.

Ginger: You may have heard about ginger’s ability to calm nausea, vomiting, morning sickness and motion sickness, but its benefits go well beyond stomach upsets and digestive complaints. Ginger is thought to improve circulation and relieve pain; helpful in combating side-effects of chemotherapy; effective in fighting cancer, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s; promotes heart health and boosts the immune system.

Mustard Seed: Powdered mustard seed kills E. coli bacteria when added to ground meat, so powerful is its antimicrobial properties. It is also being studied for its ability to stop the growth of cancer cells. However, most prepared mustard doesn’t contain the active compound, allyl isothiocyanate, which accounts for these benefits.

Nutmeg: This spice has been used traditionally in treating anxiety and sleep problems. Studies have shown it to possess potent antidepressant qualities. This is another spice found to have antibacterial activity that is especially effective against E. coli. It is believed to help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, increase circulation, and calm digestive complaints such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Oregano: This herb does more than make your pasta sauce sing! It has such powerful antibacterial properties it was actually found to be more effective than a common prescription drug. It is able to kill bugs in the intestines without harming the good bacteria. It is very potent – 30 times more antioxidant activity than potatoes, 42 times more than apples, 12 times more than oranges and 4 times the antioxidant activity of blueberries. It has been used effectively to fight yeast overgrowth as well.

Parsley: Most people consider parsley just a decoration on their dish. That couldn’t be further from the truth! Parsley has double the iron of spinach and three times the vitamin C of oranges as well as many other nutrients. It contains volatile oils that inhibit tumor formation, especially those in the lungs, as well as neutralizing cancer- causing compounds from cigarette and charcoal grill smoke. It contains folate, a B vitamin, that is especially heart protective and studies have shown that its vitamin C content is effective in protecting against rheumatoid arthritis.

Peppermint: Peppermint tea is soothing to an upset stomach and helpful in improving digestion. In fact one study indicated its oil may be effective in treating irritable bowel syndrome. It also inhibits bacteria and fungus, helps relieve asthma and allergy symptoms, helps with tension and fatigue and shows promise in protecting against cancer.

Rosemary: Here’s another herb with a long history as a folk remedy. The Ancient Greeks used it to enhance memory. It has been found to be both antibacterial and antifungal; stimulates the immune system, improves digestion, increases circulation and helps prevent blood vessel damage making it helpful for heart health.

Sage: If the name of this herb makes you think it should make you smarter – you may be on to something! Studies have shown that it appears to promote brain function. Because of its powerful anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, it may also help fight asthma, atherosclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Thyme: Thyme has been used for centuries as an antiseptic. Studies have shown it to be very effective in not only killing bacteria and fungi, but also in preventing the contamination of foods by organisms that can cause diarrhea and other digestive problems.

Turmeric: Turmeric and curry powder both contain a phytochemical called curcumin. This compound is being studied for its many possible benefits. Curcumin is effective in relieving menstrual cramps, reducing arthritic pain, and brain plaque implicated in Alzheimer’s. Its anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties rival those of Motrin and hydrocortisone without the negative side-effects. It is being studied for its ability to induce cell suicide in cancers, particularly in melanomas. It is also a natural liver detoxifier.

These are just a few of the many wonderful herbs and spices you can use to make your meals more exciting and flavorful while also improving your health.

Author's Bio: 

Ann Musico is a Certified Biblical Health Coach and independent nutritional consultant. Learn more about her "3-D Living Program," coaching packages, and subscribe for her free monthly newsletter by visiting her website, threedimensionalvitality.com.