RSSSpice up your diet and enjoy better health

Posted on Thu, 1 Oct 09

Spice up your diet and enjoy better health

Herbs and spices have been used by humans for millennia with archaeological evidence dating back over 50,000 years. Although used in small amounts and often considered simply flavouring herbs and spices have profound health effects. The potential benefit of herbs and spices range from improving digestion and mood to helping prevent chronic diseases such as type-2 diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and certain types of cancer (1,2). It is often the small things in life that have the biggest effect.

A little spice has a big effect

Although herbs and spices, because they are used in such small amounts, may seemingly contribute little nutritional value to our diet it is now well understood that they are particularly rich in phytochemicals, substances that although eaten in small amounts have a huge effect on our health (3). Just one gram (less than half a teaspoon) of herbs and spices added to your daily diet would make a significant contribution to total intake of antioxidants (4). And the regularly use of dietary herbs and spices may explain why some populations have lower rates of chronic diseases such as cancer than others (2).

Nature’s pharmacy

Herbs and spices have a remarkable range of benefits. For example, ginger, black pepper, cumin, fennel and cardamom may improve digestion and absorption (5,6). Chilli pepper may improve your metabolism (7). Garlic supports a healthy heart and can lower blood pressure (8,9). Turmeric has shown potential for treating inflammatory bowel disease and preventing bowel cancer (10,11). Oregano, sage, peppermint, and thyme are powerful antioxidants (4). Experimental studies suggest that many common spices including garlic, pepper, rosemary, turmeric, and cinnamon may help prevent cancer (2). And several studies now show that small amounts of cinnamon improve blood glucose control in people with type-2 diabetes (12).

Although healthy eating recommendations have neglected herbs and spices there are clearly many benefits to enjoying them as part of a healthy diet.  


1. Tapsell LC, Hemphill I, Cobiac L, et al. Health benefits of herbs and spices: the past, the present, the future. Med J Aust. 2006 Aug 21;185(4 Suppl):S4-24.

2. Kaefer CM, Milner JA. The role of herbs and spices in cancer prevention. J Nutr Biochem. 2008 Jun;19(6):347-61.

3. Minich DM, Bland JS. Dietary management of the metabolic syndrome beyond macronutrients.Nutr Rev. 2008 Aug;66(8):429-44.

4. Dragland S, Senoo H, Wake K, et al. Several culinary and medicinal herbs are important sources of dietary antioxidants. J Nutr. 2003 May;133(5):1286-90.

5. Platel K, Srinivasan K. Digestive stimulant action of spices: a myth or reality? Indian J Med Res. 2004 May;119(5):167-79.

6. Wu KL, Rayner CK, Chuah SK, et al. Effects of ginger on gastric emptying and motility in healthy humans. Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2008 May;20(5):436-40

7. Westerterp-Plantenga M, Diepvens K, Joosen AM, et al. Metabolic effects of spices, teas, and caffeine. Physiol Behav. 2006 Aug 30;89(1):85-91.

8. Gorinstein S, Jastrzebski Z, Namiesnik J, et al. The atherosclerotic heart disease and protecting properties of garlic: contemporary data. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2007 Nov;51(11):1365-81.

9. Ried K, Frank OR, Stocks NP, et al. Effect of garlic on blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Cardiovasc Disord. 2008 Jun 16;8:13.

10. Hanai H, Sugimoto K. Curcumin has bright prospects for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease. Curr Pharm Des. 2009;15(18):2087-94.

11. Villegas I, Sánchez-Fidalgo S, Alarcón de la Lastra C. New mechanisms and therapeutic potential of curcumin for colorectal cancer. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2008 Sep;52(9):1040-61

12. Crawford P. Effectiveness of cinnamon for lowering hemoglobin A1C in patients with type 2 diabetes: a randomized, controlled trial.J Am Board Fam Med. 2009 Sep-Oct;22(5):507-12.

Tags: Herbs And Spices, Nutrition, Diet

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