8 of the World’s Healthiest Spices & Herbs You Should Be Eating

By Kerri-Ann Jennings, M.S., R.D., Associate Nutrition Editor at EatingWell Magazine
As a registered dietitian and associate nutrition editor at EatingWell Magazine, I know that herbs and spices do more than simply add flavor to food. They let you cut down on some less-healthy ingredients, such as salt, added sugars and saturated fat, and some have inherent health benefits, many of which Joyce Hendley reported on for EatingWell Magazine.
Modern science is beginning to uncover the ultimate power of spices and herbs, as weapons against illnesses from cancer to Alzheimer’s disease. “We’re now starting to see a scientific basis for why people have been using spices medicinally for thousands of years,” says Bharat Aggarwal, Ph.D., professor at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and author of Healing Spices (Sterling, 2011).
Aggarwal notes that in his native India, where spices tend to be used by the handful, the incidences of diet-related diseases like heart disease and cancer have long been low. But when Indians move away and adopt more Westernized eating patterns, their rates of those diseases rise. While researchers usually blame the meatier, fattier nature of Western diets, Aggarwal and other experts believe that herbs and spices-or more precisely, the lack of them-are also an important piece of the dietary puzzle. “When Indians eat more Westernized foods, they’re getting much fewer spices than their traditional diet contains,” he explains. “They lose the protection those spices are conveying.”
While science has yet to show that any spice cures disease, there’s compelling evidence that several may help manage some chronic conditions (though it’s always smart to talk with your doctor). What’s not to love? Here we’ve gathered eight of the healthiest spices and herbs enjoyed around the world.

Chile Peppers May help: Boost metabolism. Chile peppers add a much-appreciated heat to chilly-weather dishes, and they can also give a boost to your metabolism. Thank capsaicin, the compound that gives fresh chilies, and spices including cayenne and chipotle, their kick. Studies show that capsaicin can increase the body’s metabolic rate (causing one to burn more calories) and may stimulate brain chemicals that help us feel less hungry. In fact, one study found that people ate 16 percent fewer calories at a meal if they’d sipped a hot-pepper-spiked tomato juice (vs. plain tomato juice) half an hour earlier. Recent research found that capsinoids, similar but gentler chemicals found in milder chili hybrids, have the same effects-so even tamer sweet paprika packs a healthy punch. Capsaicin may also lower risk of ulcers by boosting the ability of stomach cells to resist infection by ulcer-causing bacteria and help the heart by keeping “bad” LDL cholesterol from turning into a more lethal, artery-clogging form.

Ginger May help: Soothe an upset stomach, fight arthritis pain. Ginger has a well-deserved reputation for relieving an unsettled stomach. Studies show ginger extracts can help reduce nausea caused by morning sickness or following surgery or chemotherapy, though it’s less effective for motion sickness. But ginger is also packed with inflammation-fighting compounds, such as gingerols, which some experts believe may hold promise in fighting some cancers and may reduce the aches of osteoarthritis and soothe sore muscles. In a recent study, people who took ginger capsules daily for 11 days reported 25 percent less muscle pain when they performed exercises designed to strain their muscles (compared with a similar group taking placebo capsules). Another study found that ginger-extract injections helped relieve osteoarthritis pain of the knee.

Cinnamon May help: Stabilize blood sugar. A few studies suggest that adding cinnamon to food-up to a teaspoon a day, usually given in capsule form-might help people with type 2 diabetes better control their blood sugar, by lowering post-meal blood-sugar spikes. Other studies suggest the effects are limited at best.

Turmeric May help: Quell inflammation, inhibit tumors. Turmeric, the goldenrod-colored spice, is used in India to help wounds heal (it’s applied as a paste); it’s also made into a tea to relieve colds and respiratory problems. Modern medicine confirms some solid-gold health benefits as well; most are associated with curcumin, a compound in turmeric that has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin has been shown to help relieve pain of arthritis, injuries and dental procedures; it’s also being studied for its potential in managing heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Researcher Bharat Aggarwal is bullish on curcumin’s potential as a cancer treatment, particularly in colon, prostate and breast cancers; preliminary studies have found that curcumin can inhibit tumor cell growth and suppress enzymes that activate carcinogens.

Saffron May help: Lift your mood. Saffron has long been used in traditional Persian medicine as a mood lifter, usually steeped into a medicinal tea or used to prepare rice. Research from Iran’s Roozbeh Psychiatric Hospital at Tehran University of Medical Sciences has found that saffron may help to relieve symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and depression. In one study, 75% of women with PMS who were given saffron capsules daily reported that their PMS symptoms (such as mood swings and depression) declined by at least half, compared with only 8 percent of women who didn’t take saffron.

Parsley May help: Inhibit breast cancer-cell growth. University of Missouri scientists found that this herb can actually inhibit breast cancer-cell growth, reported Holly Pevzner in the September/October 2011 issue of EatingWell Magazine.
In the study, animals that were given apigenin, a compound abundant in parsley (and in celery), boosted their resistance to developing cancerous tumors. Experts recommend adding a couple pinches of minced fresh parsley to your dishes daily.

Sage May help: Preserve memory, soothe sore throats. Herbalists recommend sipping sage tea for upset stomachs and sore throats, a remedy supported by one study that found spraying sore throats with a sage solution gave effective pain relief. And preliminary research suggests the herb may improve some symptoms of early Alzheimer’s disease by preventing a key enzyme from destroying acetylcholine, a brain chemical involved in memory and learning. In another study, college students who took sage extracts in capsule form performed significantly better on memory tests, and their moods improved.

Rosemary May help: Enhance mental focus, fight food-borne bacteria. One recent study found that people performed better on memory and alertness tests when mists of aromatic rosemary oil were piped into their study cubicles. Rosemary is often used in marinades for meats and poultry, and there’s scientific wisdom behind that tradition: rosmarinic acid and other antioxidant compounds in the herb fight bacteria and prevent meat from spoiling, and may even make cooked meats healthier. In March 2010, Kansas State University researchers reported that adding rosemary extracts to ground beef helped prevent the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCAs)-cancer-causing compounds produced when meats are grilled, broiled or fried.

Eating Organic and Pesticide Free Is Healthier and Saves Money in the Long-run

By Thomas Pawlenko, GM

On October 11, the Atlanta Journal Constitution ran an article by Lauren Davidson that quoted a “nutrition specialist” with a large medical company in part, not to buy “everything on your grocery list at a high-end natural foods store when some items can be found cheaper elsewhere”. The implication was that natural foods stores are somehow by default more expensive than other sources of these products. Nothing could be further from the truth.

While some stores may indeed have higher prices for some products, the comparisons done by product type do not back Ms. Davidson’s conclusion. In fact, she quotes a nutritionist later in the article who says she does not buy organic or even pesticide free, all the time. As she states, “In terms of overall health, if I am on a budget, I pick my battles”.

Those of us in the Natural Foods and Organic Foods industry are the most sensitive to the price point of our products. We realize that Organic products will cost more than non-Organic/Conventional products. However, there are legitimate reasons for that and there are many benefits to eating Organic and pesticide free, all of which have been documented for decades. Some are obvious – chemicals and poisons are eliminated from the food you eat, the farm soils are healthier and provide a more nutrient rich environment for the crops, and the resistance of pests to the chemical pesticides is reduced. Others are more long-term – Less health problems from the ingestion of pesticide residues and chemical fertilizers means less medical costs later in life, reduced incidences of food allergies and sensitivities, and less medicines to deal with health problems.

The Rodale Institute has done a 30 year side-by-side study comparing Organic farming to conventional farming. Their conclusions included the following 6 findings:

1) Organic yields match conventional yields.

2) Organic outperforms conventional in years of drought.

3) Organic farming systems build rather than deplete soil organic matter, making it a more sustainable system

4) Organic farming uses 45% less energy and is more efficient.

5) Conventional systems product 40% more greenhouse gases.

6) Organic farming is more profitable than conventional farming.

There were more conclusions to their study and they can be seen at rodaleinstitute.org/fst30years . These findings completely overturn the opinions of Ms. Davidson’s “experts” concerning the priority of Organic and pesticide free foods. In fact, being “on a budget” (which really everyone is), is even more reason to eat the best foods available and not to “pick my battles” as one of her experts suggest. Eating better means living healthier and that should be our primary concern for our families and ourselves.

She touts both Trader Joe’s and Wal-Mart as great sources of quality, inexpensive products and produce. While they both may occasionally be lower priced on some items, most of their organic products and produce are much higher than many other stores and sometimes even higher than the so called “high end Natural Foods stores”.

The one line in the story that made absolutely good sense was her quote of her nutritionist source who said, “It’s really just keeping an eye out for your basic staples at different stores”. The only caveat to that would be that if you have chosen to eat organic and pesticide free then choose a good, reliable, trustworthy Natural Foods store that has a knowledgeable staff and quality products over the mega supermarkets that try to do Organic as a sideline. In the long run, you will live healthier and have a fatter wallet.

Thomas Pawlenko, GM

Sevananda Natural Foods Market

Victory for Organic Farmers

August 15th, 2011 – Jill Ettinger
Court Rules Drifting Pesticides are Trespassers

The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled last month that chemical pesticides used by conventional farmers that cross property lines and contaminate neighboring organic farms could be considered trespassing, nuisance and negligence, entitling organic farmers to retributions.
Minnesota’s Star Tribune reports that improperly applied pesticides, which have been repeatedly drifting onto a Stearns County farm owned by Oluf Johnson, have had dire consequences on his organic crops. The damage caused by the chemical drift has rendered his products unsalable in the organic market. But, thanks to the new ruling from the State, the reckless use of chemicals entitles Johnson to recover damages from the company applying the chemicals to the nearby farms.
The Star Tribune also reports that a California farmer was recently awarded $1 million in damages from a fog of pesticides that drifted from a conventional farm and contaminated his entire season’s crop of organic herbs.
Pesticides, while not visible trespassers, constitute physical “particulate matter” with the ability to contaminate and cause damage to organic farms, the Minnesota ruling found. They have the ability to invade and destroy the “possessory rights of landowners,” creating a cause of action for trespass.
The timing of this ruling comes as toxic pesticides, largely Monsanto’s glyphosate Roundup, are being used in record numbers, with at least 70 percent of processed foods in U.S. supermarkets containing GM ingredients. 93 percent of soy, 86 percent of corn and 93 percent of cotton and canola planted in the U.S. in 2010, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, were genetically modified.