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The Spice of Life: Antioxidant Herbs and Spices

By Dawna Matthews:

Ways to improve your health and well-being are always in the news. One of the simplest ways to improve both is through nutrition. There are several buzzworthy health and nutrition topics, but one of the most talked about today is antioxidants and why we need these nutrients.

What are antioxidants and why are they important? There is so much information on this special class of

Picture from http://www.grit.com
Picture from http://www.grit.com

micronutrient that it is easy to become confused or frustrated about how to get to the core of what they are and how to get them into our bodies. Very simply, antioxidants are chemical compounds that protect our cells from the effects of free radicals. Free radicals appear when the body is exposed to pollutants and when it breaks down food. These free radicals can damage cells and lead to health issues such as heart disease, cancer, and other problematic conditions. Antioxidants can greatly help in effectively increasing our immune system support, fending off age-related skin issues, easing acid forming inflammation and aiding in digestion in addition to providing a seemingly infinite number of other benefits.

In plants, antioxidants protect living organisms from oxidative stress. It’s believed the human body obtains these same protective benefits by consuming antioxidant-rich foods. Experts agree you should eat a varied whole foods diet that includes a range of fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. Other ways to incorporate antioxidants is through teas, red wine, dark chocolate, and herbs and spices. Throughout history, herbs and spices have been used not only for flavor but also for their vital role in health and healing properties. Some of the herbs and spices with the highest rating of antioxidants can be found in your pantry and are easy to incorporate on a consistent basis in order to reap benefits on a cellular level. What’s even better — a little bit goes a very long way. Here are some of my favorite antioxidant-rich herbs and spices.

1- Oregano: According to legend, the Greek goddess Aphrodite created oregano as a symbol of joy. This spice has been cultivated for centuries and is common in Mediterranean and Mexican cooking. It is high in nutrients and phytochemicals such as rosmarinic acid, and can be used in a variety of ways, fresh or dried. I like to add it when sautéing or roasting vegetables. It is wonderful in soup, sauces. It also can be used medicinally as a tea to help nervousness, headaches and indigestion.

2- Cumin: Another ancient spice high in antioxidant and vitamin levels is cumin. Used in the Middle East, Egypt, Rome, it then spread to the Americas. A beautifully pungent and warming spice, cumin adds balance when combined with other spices, and is extremely useful for digestion. I use the ground spice almost as much as pepper and salt as a flavoring for rice dishes and sauces. Another way I recommend using cumin is by roasting the seeds and mixing them with pumpkin or sunflower seeds for a nutty flavor with couscous or quinoa.

3- Rosemary: Rosemary contains active ingredients that are potent antioxidants as well as anti-inflammatory agents. Long known to improve concentration, boost memory, and lift depression, rosemary also strengthens the immune system, improves circulation, stimulates digestion, and fights cancer. While it adds a delicious savory flavor to dishes, it also helps digestion by stimulating the gallbladder to release bile as well. Try making a marinade or paste (to use as a rub) with rosemary, thyme, chopped garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil.

Herbs4- Cinnamon: This ancient spice has some of the highest antioxidant levels of any spice. It helps stabilize blood sugars, and has powerful anti-inflammatory properties that help relieve pain and stiffness in the joints. Many uses for cinnamon are with baked desserts, but I enjoy its flavor in sweet potato dishes or when cooking leafy green vegetables such as collard greens. Try it in oatmeal, smoothies or tea.

5- Turmeric: Turmeric is a powerhouse spice. It has been utilized in civilizations as varied as China, India, and Africa. Turmeric’s yellow-orange pigment comes from curcumin, the main active ingredient in this super spice. Curcumin is high in anti-inflammatory benefits and helps decrease inflammation in the joints. Other uses are for improving liver function, digestion, and heart disease prevention. Some people recommend using black pepper along with turmeric to increase the absorption of curcumin in the body. Add this to curry dishes and also with spices used to grill vegetables (such as cauliflower steaks), and throw it in with lentils, or with eggs.

This is a just a small taste of what you can add to your daily cooking. When you start adding these simple yet powerfully effective antioxidant-rich herbs and spices to your food, you create a new lifestyle of health and wellness. At the minimum level, you are adding variety and flavors to food, as well as expanding your palate to include new things that are good for you. Strive for a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables in your diet, as well as a variety of whole grains that work for you and your diet because varied colors indicate a healthful variety of antioxidants. Throw in some common spices and herbs first, then gradually try some more exotic ones. See what works, and spice up your life a little bit while enjoying some health benefits.

Other super herbs and spices:

  • Basil
  • Cloves
  • Cayenne
  • Ginger
  • Thyme

Caution, I’m not a doctor so make sure to always check with your health practitioner before using any herbs or spices for medicinal purpose.

About Dawna Matthews

Dawna is a yoga teacher, writer, domestic goddess, and lover of life. She tries to celebrate all the joys given to us in this world by dancing, singing, cooking, and gazing up at the sky. Dawna believes green living is a way of coming back to the self- a simple yet deeply satisfying dance of gratitude to mother earth and each one of us. She lives in Colorado where the mountains are a perfect backdrop to each day. She twirls daily.

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  1. One of my favorite green cleaning tricks is to boil cinnamon sticks, whole anise, whole cloves and some citrus peels. It makes the whole house smell wonderful!

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