6 Spices And Herbs To Add To Your Diet

by Laura N. Brown, MS, RD, LDN, ACSM-CPT

Last Updated: April 22, 2021

No one likes a bland meal. If you are cutting back on fat or sodium for health reasons, culinary spices and herbs can add flavor to any dish. Additionally, they deliver a healthy dose of antioxidants, which may prevent or slow cell damage caused by free radicals. Spice up your meal and cook with these spices and herbs to reap benefits your tastebuds and health will love!
  1. Turmeric
    A golden spice known for its bright yellow-orange color. Commonly consumed in Asian cuisine, turmeric has been used for centuries for dye, food coloring, and medicinal purposes. Curcumin is the biologically active antioxidant found in turmeric, leading this popular superfood to gain attention for its claim to reduce inflammation. Most notably, curcumin may reduce inflammation in the brain, which has been linked to Alzheimer’s and may reduce pain and swelling in those with arthritis. Additionally, researchers are exploring the impact of curcumin on cancer risk, as animal studies indicate it may have powerful anti-cancer effects.

    Due to poor bioavailability, you may not strike gold with a magic pill to fight inflammation. However, turmeric is a great way to spice up your dinner routine. Rub turmeric on meats, add it to vegetables or sprinkle it in your smoothie. You can pair turmeric with coconut milk to make a traditional curry or even start the day with a turmeric tea blend.
  2. Basil
    A delicious and fragrant herb best known as the key ingredient in pesto. There are many varieties of basil, all of which can add a distinctive flavor to dishes of Italian, Thai, Vietnamese, and Indian cuisine. Research on the potential health benefits of basil has found the herb may help regulate blood sugar and lipids in individuals with diabetes, strengthen the immune system, alleviate stress and anxiety, and enhance memory. Additionally, basil is an excellent source of vitamin K, with a half-cup providing nearly 100% of daily recommendations. Vitamin K plays a key role in blood clotting and bone mineralization, and adequate intake may help prevent coronary heart disease by promoting the elasticity of the vascular system.

    While dried basil is a convenient option, opt for fresh basil whenever possible, as some of the antioxidants and oils are lost during the drying process. Basil is a fantastic complement to pasta, pizza, sandwiches, or soups. You can also add basil to vegetables with a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette. Trying to cut back on sugar-sweetened beverages? Basil can add refreshing flavor to water.
  3. Cinnamon
    An excellent way to add sweetness to your food without sugar. Cinnamon compounds have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions; therefore, the use of cinnamon spice may provide heart-healthy benefits, such as reducing high cholesterol or triglyceride levels. Several research studies have found cinnamon to be beneficial for glucose, lipid, and insulin levels. While cinnamon cannot replace diabetes treatment, it may be used in conjunction with pharmaceutical therapy to help control blood glucose levels for type 2 diabetics. Preliminary research suggests cinnamon may also provide cognitive benefits, such as enhanced memory and improved outcome of neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

    Cinnamon is an easy addition to a breakfast routine of oatmeal or cereal. If you enjoy a morning cup of coffee, consider mixing cinnamon into coffee grounds for a treat for your tastebuds and nose. Cinnamon is also a great addition to stews, chili (ahem – Cincinnati chili anyone?), or meats. Curve afternoon snack attacks with cinnamon chia protein balls.
  4. Cayenne Pepper
    Spice up your diet with the addition of this spice (ground red pepper). A member of the nightshade family, cayenne pepper contains capsaicin, a phytochemical that gives chiles their heat and potential health benefits. Researchers suggest capsaicinoids found in peppers may decrease inflammation and cancer risk. While research is inconclusive on cayenne pepper’s role in weight loss and metabolism, the spicy taste may help tame hunger and lead to fewer sweet cravings.

    Turn up the heat and add cayenne pepper to chili, soup, stew, meat, and seafood. For a spicy snack, add cayenne pepper to nuts. And remember – you don’t need much! A little goes a long way in providing a flavor-filled knockout.
  5. Ginger
    Well-known for its ability to soothe an upset stomach. This spicy herb stimulates the flow of saliva, bile, and gastric secretions, which may help decrease nausea and discomfort. Ginger is packed with gingerols, an inflammation-fighting compound that provides the characteristic spiciness found from the root. Gingerols may also protect tissues and organs against oxidative damage, potentially leading to decreased risk for the development of cancer.

    Add flavor to seafood and fish with ginger. Many products make adding ginger easy, including ginger paste and frozen ginger cubes. Score a double whammy and combine ginger and turmeric for a delicious mocktail or utilize a ginger garlic stir fry kit for a quick and convenient weeknight dinner.
  6. Oregano
    An herb from the mint family that has been used in Mediterranean and Mexican cuisine for centuries. Oregano is rich in phytonutrients, specifically rosmarinic acid and thymol. In fact, researchers have found oregano to be the highest in antioxidant capacity and phenolic content when compared to other spices. Most notably, 1 tablespoon of fresh oregano contains the same antioxidant activity as a medium-sized apple. Similar to cinnamon, oregano may also contain diabetes-fighting compounds that could reduce type 2 diabetes risk.

    Oregano can add a savory touch to proteins, including fish, chicken, and pork. Keep it classic by combining oregano with garlic and basil to round out an Italian meal. Get creative and refresh your go-to salad routine by mixing a lemon-oregano salad dressing.

It is best to avoid capsules or supplements made from spices and herbs due to potential reactions with a wide range of commonly used medications. Rather, enjoy spices and herbs to flavor whole foods and deliver diverse flavors to your diet. By consuming herbs and spices as part of a balanced meal, you will provide your body with additional nutrients needed for a healthy and happy life while making healthy eating more appealing and sustainable long-term.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.

Laura N. Brown, MS, RD, LDN, ACSM-CPT

Laura N. Brown, MS, RD, LDN, ACSM-CPT

Laura’s food philosophy is quite simple: there is no such thing as bad foods, just incorrect portion sizes! All foods have a place in the diet and should be enjoyed guilt free. Laura is both a dietitian and personal trainer with a diverse background working with children, adolescents, athletes and more. She even had a 3-year stint as a performing artist singing and rapping about healthy foods! As a mom of a young toddler, Laura understands the challenge of balancing a busy schedule with health goals. For fun, Laura enjoys hiking with her dog and family and jamming out to some good showtunes.