Boosting your immune system – Top 10 healthiest spices and herbs

Understanding Spices

Throughout history, herbs and spices have been used not just to flavour dishes, but also for their medicinal properties. Even small doses of herbs and spices can pack a punch when it comes to providing nutrients, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Their anti-inflammatory properties have many health benefits, including fighting off chronic disease, indigestion and speeding up your metabolism. Here are 10 of the healthiest spices and herbs to use in your cooking.

1 – Ginger

Ginger is one of the healthiest and tastiest spices on the planet. The main active ingredient is gingerol, a compound which is responsible for most of the plant’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Some of the health benefits of ginger include:

  • Treating nausea: ginger is often used to treat morning sickness, travel sickness and for patients undergoing chemotherapy
  • Reducing pain: the anti-inflammatory properties of gingerol are incredibly helpful in reducing exercise-induced muscle pain, relieving symptoms of osteoarthritis and treating menstrual pain
  • Lowering blood sugar: ginger has been found to lower blood sugar levels, which is especially useful for people with diabetes
  • Treating indigestion: ginger aids digestion, which can be beneficial to people suffering from indigestion and stomach discomforts
  • Improving brain function: the antioxidants in ginger can protect against age-related brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s
  • Lowering your risk of cancer: ginger’s cell protecting properties can lower the risk of getting cancer. It reduces cellular activities that generate DNA changes and cell death, as well as helping tumours respond to cancer treatments

2 – Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a popular spice which is often used in desserts. Cinnamaldehyde is the compound found in the spice which is responsible for its unique smell and taste. It also has numerous health benefits, which include:

  • Reducing heart disease: as well as increasing levels of ‘good cholesterol’, cinnamon can reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol and blood pressure, which are risk factors for heart disease
  • Anti-diabetic effects: cinnamon is great for diabetes sufferers, as it helps the body become more receptive towards insulin and lowers blood sugar levels
  • Fighting bad breath and tooth decay: cinnamon’s antibacterial and antifungal properties can inhibit the growth of bacteria in the mouth
  • Protecting against brain damage: Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease are common neurodegenerative diseases. Cinnamon helps to protect neurons in the brain and improve motor function, warding off brain damage

3 – Turmeric

Turmeric has a long history of being used in traditional medicine and is one of the most effective spices out there. Its active ingredient is curcumin which, as well as giving curry a bright yellow colour, also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Here are some of the health benefits that curcumin has:

  • Improving brain function: curcumin increases the levels of BDNF, a brain hormone which encourages the growth of new neurons and prevents degenerative processes in the brain
  • Fighting depression: depression is linked to decreased levels of BDNF, but as curcumin increases the levels of this hormone, the effects of depression can be reversed
  • Reducing heart disease: curcumin contributes towards healthy blood vessels, as well as reducing inflammation and oxidation
  • Improving arthritis symptoms: as curcumin is anti-inflammatory, it helps to reduce inflammation in joints
  • Preventing cancer: curcumin has been found to kill and reduce the growth of cancerous cells, and prevent new blood vessels forming in tumours

4 – Sage

Sage is a herb commonly used in European cooking. It has a strong scent and earthy flavour, so it’s only used in small amounts. However, even the smallest amounts are full of nutrients and compounds. Here are some of the reasons why sage is such a potent herb:

  • Improving oral health: sage has antimicrobial effects which can prevent dental plaque from forming
  • Easing menopause symptoms: sage has properties similar to estrogen, which can help reduce the symptoms of menopause including hot flashes, excessive sweating and irritability
  • Supporting a healthy brain: as sage is packed with antioxidants, it’s able to protect the brain’s defence system. It’s shown to improve memory and brain function, which helps in relieving the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Lowering ‘bad’ cholesterol: high levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol are a risk factor for heart disease. Consuming sage can lower the levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol while simultaneously increasing ‘good’ cholesterol
  • Promoting bone health: sage contains high levels of vitamin K, which is necessary for healthy bones. Not getting enough vitamin K can result in bone thinning and fractures

5 – Rosemary

Rosemary is a fragrant herb and a member of the mint family. As well as tasting great in chicken and lamb dishes, rosemary has a ton of medicinal properties. Here are some of the health benefits you can get from rosemary:

  • Improving digestion: rosemary is a natural remedy for stomach ailments. It helps to relax the muscles of the intestines and can improve constipation, digestion, bloating and help to regulate bowel movements
  • Boosts your memory: the aroma of rosemary has been proven to enhance memory, concentration, performance, speed and accuracy
  • Preventing allergies and nasal congestion: rosmarinic acid, an active ingredient in the herb, is able to suppress allergies and nasal congestion
  • Hair loss: applying rosemary oil to the scalp can help with balding, as it stimulates the growth of hair

6 – Peppermint

Peppermint is another fantastic herb when it comes to health benefits. The natural oil that comes from the peppermint plant contains many health effects and can be used for a variety of purposes, including:

  • Improving oral health: the antimicrobial properties in peppermint oil can kill mouth bacteria responsible for bad breath
  • Helping with IBS: peppermint oil can help ease the symptoms of IBS by relaxing the muscles of the GI tract and decreasing the sensation of pain
  • Easing tummy troubles: as well as being great for treating symptoms of IBS, peppermint is also useful as a pain relief for sore stomachs. Drinking a cup of peppermint tea after a meal can help ease digestion
  • Treating coughs and the common cold: when feeling under the weather, peppermint is a good alternative for over the counter medicine. Peppermint oil is extremely effective in easing tension headaches, congestion and clearing the sinuses

7 – Cayenne pepper

Cayenne pepper is a type of chilli pepper commonly found in Mexican, Cajun and Creole dishes. The main ingredient in cayenne pepper is capsaicin, which gives the pepper its spicy taste as well as many health benefits. Some of the medicinal properties of cayenne pepper include:

  • Helps with weight loss: one of the main benefits of cayenne pepper is that it can help with losing weight. Capsaicin has metabolism-boosting properties, helping to burn more calories. It also helps to suppress hunger
  • Useful as a pain relief: when applied to the skin in a cream, capsaicin is an effective pain relief for joint and muscle pain
  • Helps in easing psoriasis symptoms: similarly,capsaicin creams help to relieve the symptoms of psoriasis when applied to the skin
  • Boosts your immune system: cayenne pepper is a great source of vitamin C, which is effective in boosting your immune system

8 – Fenugreek

Although not as commonly used as the other spices on this list, fenugreek has long been used in alternative medicine. The seeds of this small plant are most commonly used in Indian cuisine, but can also be taken as a supplement. Here are some of the health benefits of fenugreek:

  • Increase breastmilk production: fenugreek is a safe, natural alternative to prescription drugs for increasing breast milk production, which in turn helps newborn babies gain more weight
  • Boost testosterone levels: fenugreek supplements can boost testosterone levels in men, increasing strength and libido
  • Help with diabetes and blood sugar levels: fenugreek has a role in improving insulin function and blood sugar levels

9 – Garlic

Garlic is a well-loved spice which has been used to treat medical conditions since the time of Hippocrates. Garlic can be used to treat a whole range of medical conditions. Here are just a few:

  • Combat sickness: garlic is effective in warding off sicknesses like the flu and the common cold, as it’s a powerful immune system booster
  • Reduces blood pressure: high doses of garlic are effective in reducing blood pressure for people who suffer from hypertension
  • Improves cholesterol levels: regularly consuming garlic reduces the amount of ‘bad’ cholesterol in the blood
  • Staves off age-related brain diseases: garlic is full of antioxidants which are important in helping the body fight off oxidative damage. The later contributes to diseases like Alzheimer’s and Dementia

10 – Parsley

This fragrant herb is often said to be one of the most potent disease-fighting plants. It’s packed with nutrients and has some excellent health benefits, including:

  • Supports healthy bones: parsley contains high amounts of vitamin K, which is important for strong bones. It improves bone density and reduces the risk of fractures
  • Supports healthy eyes: it’s not just carrots that give you healthy eyes – the carotenoids in parsley contributes to eye health and reduces the risk of age-related eye conditions
  • Improves heart health: parsley contains high levels of folate, a B vitamin which lowers the risk of heart disease
  • Rich in cancer-fighting substances: parsley contains various antioxidants including flavonoids and vitamin C, all of which reduce oxidative stress and lower the risk of cancer

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