When you start out on a Paleo diet one of the first things you will notice is the amount of herbs and spices that you use in your cooking. Whilst this can seem complicated to start with you will soon learn the flavours, working out which combinations work well together and before long they become an integral part of your cooking. But have you ever thought beyond the flavour and considered the health benefits?
Sage has been associated with treating issues of aging, such as memory loss, and has been included in studies for Alzheimer’s disease.
Herbs and spices are packed full of essential micronutrients and phytochemicals that help your body function on a day to day basis. Many have healing qualities that have been exploited for centuries by a variety of cultures and research continues today to try and understand more about the health benefits that they have to offer. We take a look at some of the surprising health benefits that you can get from your herbs and spices.
More than just an addition to your stuffing for a Sunday Roast sage is packed full of health benefits and has been the subject of several scientific studies, most notably in relation to its memory enhancing qualities.
Sage has been associated with treating issues of aging, such as memory loss, and has been included in studies for Alzheimer’s disease. Whilst these studies continue to date, sage does seem to have some benefits including improving cognitive function and reducing irritation in patients suffering from mild Alzheimer’s. It has also been shown to help memory recall in healthy patients.
Sage is rich in rosmarinic acid which helps reduce inflammation in the body and has a potent antioxidant action which can aid digestion. Rosmarinic acid can also help to neutralise free radicals (dangerous by products of cellular metabolism that attack healthy cells) and prevent them from creating oxidative stress in the body (the cause of many chronic and degenerative diseases).
One of the most overlooked benefits is the impact it can have on bone health. It contains high levels of vitamin K which is needed to develop bone density and to help protect the health of our bones as we age. Including sage in your Paleo diet can increase your vitamin K levels significantly, with one serving accounting for 27% of your recommended intake. It can also help to lower cholesterol and has been traditionally used by menopausal women to ease hot flushes.
You may not have come across fenugreek before but you will most certainly have tasted it in Asian cuisine; particularly in Indian cooking where it is used in practically every dish. As well as adding flavour to your cooking it is packed full of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals as well as having several medicinal qualities.
Galactomannan, a natural soluble fibre present in fenugreek, not only helps to prevent cardiovascular disease but has been found to slow down the rate of sugar absorption into blood and contains an amino acid that is responsible for inducing the production of insulin. This is of particular importance for those who suffer from diabetes with studies finding that those with type II diabetes had significantly lower blood sugar levels after eating fenugreek seeds.
Fenugreek is rich in soluble dietary fibre which is essential for maintaining a healthy digestive system and helps to flush out harmful toxins from the body. Non-starch polysaccharides (NSP) constitute a large proportion of the fibre content which helps to lower cholesterol, especially that of Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. NSP also binds to toxins in food and helps to protect against colon cancer.
It is an excellent source of minerals such as copper, potassium, calcium, iron, manganese, and magnesium. Fenugreek is also rich in many essential vitamins such as vitamin B6, folic acid, vitamin A, and vitamin C.
Turmeric belongs to the ginger family and is used widely in South Asian, Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern dishes, especially in curry recipes. It is most commonly purchased as a ground powder and can be recognised by its bright yellow appearance.
One of the most important properties of turmeric is that it is an anti-inflammatory. In a modern day diet it is common to consume much higher levels of omega 6 than omega 3. To explain further, omega 6 is inflammatory whilst omega 3 is anti-inflammatory and we should be consuming at a ratio of no more than 4:1; when you consider that the average ratio in the modern diet is as much as 25:1, it makes sense that most modern diseases are inflammatory conditions. To learn more about the impact of omega 6 and omega 3 take a look at my previous article on the subject here.
Turmeric contains many micronutrients which are vital for maintaining optimum health; this includes manganese, iron, vitamin B6, fibre, copper, and potassium all of which are beneficial to the body. It is added to recipes in small quantities but that is enough to help towards getting your recommended daily intake of various nutrients.
This is a spice that most people are likely to have in their cupboards as it adds a distinct flavour to a wide variety of dishes but most notably used in curries. Cumin has always had a large part to play in traditional remedies; in particular with treating stomach issues and maintaining a healthy digestive system. Thymol, which is present in cumin, helps to stimulate the gland that produces the acids, bile, and enzymes needed to completely digest food. It also contains properties which help to relieve bloating and gas and thereby improving overall digestion.
Cumin is very rich in iron along with vitamin C and vitamin A which all help to support healthy immune function to fight colds and other infections. The high levels of iron also help to prevent anemia along with increasing cognitive performance as proper levels of oxygen and iron are able to reach your brain. Cumin also helps the liver detoxify and can help to relieve insomnia. Early studies have also reported that cumin can help to prevent and control diabetes by reducing the chances of hypoglycemia.
Oregano is a rich source of antioxidants and vitamin K which is important for improving the body’s ability to fight off infections, building bone density, and preventing blood clotting. Oregano has both anti-oxidant and anti-bacterial properties, and has been traditionally used to treat digestive disorders.
Oregano contains thymol (as seen about in cumin) and carvacrol which have been shown to inhibit the growth of bacteria. In fact, in one study researchers found oregano to be more effective in treating Giardia (an intestinal infection) than the recommended prescription drug.
It also contains rosmarinic acid (as seen above in sage) which, together with thymol, provides anti-oxidant properties. Research has shown that on a per gram fresh weight basis, oregano has demonstrated 42 times more antioxidant activity than apples, 12 times more than oranges, and 4 times more than blueberries. As if that wasn’t enough oregano is a rich source of fibre, omega 3 fatty acids, and contains a good dose of vitamin K for bone health.
Whilst herbs and spices have some great health benefits they should never be a substitute for conventional medicine. Including a wide variety in your diet will ensure that you are topping up vitamin levels and helping your body to function at its optimal level.
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- Anchan, A.. (2015). 15 Health Benefits of Fenugreek (Methi) Seeds and Leaves. In The Health Site. Retrieved 5 October, 2015 from, http://www.thehealthsite.com/diseases-conditions/15-health-benefits-of-methi/
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