Spices and herbs can add zest to an ordinary dish, but can they improve your health?
Many doctors and dietitians now believe they can, as researchers link more plant-based foods to a lower cancer risk and other health benefits.
“I think of spices and herbs as I do other plant foods,” said Angela Charlton, a Carilion Clinic oncology dietitian who works in cancer prevention and with patients fighting cancer. “They're a wonderful source of phytonutrients, or plant-based substances that have health-promoting properties."
Charlton added that spices, especially in the dried form, have been found to have very high concentrations of antioxidant, which can help prevent cell damage.
Padmaja Mallidi, M.D., an oncologist-hematologist at Blue Ridge Cancer Care, serves on Carilion’s cancer committee and is the medical director of the Oncology Unit at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital. She is especially interested in how nutrition can help prevent disease. Dr. Mallidi suggests that most of her patients add turmeric, ginger and garlic to their diets to reduce cardiovascular risk and inflammation and for general health benefits.
How can the average person benefit from adding herbs and spices to their meals?
“Try seasoning your food with turmeric, curry powder, ginger, garlic and chili peppers,” Dr. Mallidi said. “They are ideal for reducing salt and sugar traditionally used for flavor.”
Other helpful herbs and spices include cinnamon, which improves the body's ability to use sugar; black pepper, which reduces cholesterol uptake; mint, used for digestive complaints; and green tea, for its antioxidants.
Sarah Cuthbertson, a Carilion physical therapist, is one local resident who enjoys growing herbs and spices for all kinds of uses.
“I grow oregano, basil, lavender, rosemary, mint, sage, cilantro and thyme,” she said. “Oregano for salad, basil for making pesto, lavender to put in my closet and dresser, rosemary for various things, mint in drinking water and on potato dishes, and combinations of these for all my cooking.”
If you don’t have the time or inclination to grow your own, you can always buy fresh or dried herbs and spices at the grocery store. Experiment and find your own favorites!
Check with your doctor before using any herbal supplements, as some may interact with prescription medication.