News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Herbs And Spices Improve Your Food, But Their Health Benefits Vary


Herbs and spices definitely enhance the flavor of food, but some believe, on their own, they can do the same for your health. A clinical dietitian at Parkland Hospital says there’s some truth to that, but there are limits.

As a source of nutritional value, there is no downside to adding herbs and spices to your food, says Parkland's Maggy Boyd. For example, some herbs and spices have nutrients that could serve antioxidant or anti-inflammatory purposes.

However, she cautions using herbs and spices as supplements.

“There’s not enough research yet to be taking herbs and spices as a supplement and not taking your medicines. And especially with the supplement industry, it’s not regulated by the FDA, so you don’t really know what you're always taking,” she said.

Health benefits

Boyd explains how some spices are believed to have health benefits.

Cinnamon – There’s insufficient evidence to support the use of cinnamon to treat blood sugars. But my theory is that if you replace sugar with cinnamon, you’re going to lower your blood sugar because you’re taking in less sugar. 

Cocoa – There’s a little bit of evidence that cocoa can lower your blood sugar and boost your mood. That’s because it has flavanols, and those have been shown to promote vasodilation, and therefore, reduce blood pressure.

Tumeric – There’s not enough evidence to take turmeric for anti-inflammatory properties, but curcumin, which is found in turmeric, does serve that purpose.

Garlic – There’s a couple of articles here and there that say it lowers blood cholesterol. There's a couple that say it’s helpful for high blood pressure. There's no articles that say garlic is bad for you, that it doesn’t do those things, but it's not proven that it definitely does. But adding garlic to your food, there's not a downside to it, and especially if you're using less salt and using more garlic for flavor, you're going to find health benefit there.

Rosemary – When you take rosemary in its purest form, really concentrated, it has antioxidants and antioxidant properties. An antioxidant can prevent DNA damage. But the most important part is that rosemary can slow the deterioration of food flavoring. If you add rosemary to your food, it may stay fresher longer.

Chili peppers – They increase your internal body temperature by a little bit, so you may burn a little bit more calories when you add chili peppers. There is some evidence when you eat the spicy herbs, like chilis and chili powder, that it can boost your metabolism. Chili peppers are really bright in color. The brighter a fruit or vegetable is, the more nutrients that will be packed inside.

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.