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The Forgotten Superfoods: Herbs & Spices (Part 1)

Spices have been used for centuries to enhance the flavor and aroma of dishes, but they offer more than just culinary appeal. Scientific research has uncovered a wealth of health benefits associated with various spices.

In this article, we will delve into the unique properties of 6 herbs / spices: chili pepper, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, turmeric, and fenugreek. From antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects to potential blood glucose control and weight management, these spices have a lot to offer for overall well-being.

1. Chili Pepper: A Hotbed of Health Benefits

  • The antioxidant potential of red pepper capsaicin helps mitigate oxidative stress.

  • Capsaicin in chili peppers may suppress obesity-induced inflammation by modulating messenger molecules released by obese mice fat cells.

  • A randomized trial in pregnant women with gestational diabetes showed that capsaicin-containing chili supplementation improved postprandial hyperglycemia and hyperinsulinemia as well as fasting lipid metabolic disorders.

  • Animal studies suggest that red pepper positively affects insulin secretion from beta-cells, reduces peripheral insulin resistance, and lowers liver glucose output.

  • Chili peppers may contribute to thermogenesis and weight management, making them potentially useful in weight loss strategies.

2. Cinnamon: A Spice with Multifaceted Potential

  • Cinnamon contains essential oils, cinnamaldehyde, cinnamic acid, water-soluble polyphenols, and other derivatives.

  • With potential antibacterial properties, cinnamon shows promise in combating chronic salmonella infection and H. pylori bactericidal activity in vitro.

  • Cinnamaldehyde inhibits cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), contributing to cinnamon's anti-inflammatory effects.

  • Studies suggest that cinnamon consumption is associated with a decrease in fasting plasma glucose levels, making it beneficial for individuals with type 2 diabetes.

  • Cinnamon exhibits hepatoprotective properties, reducing hepatic lipid accumulation and protecting the liver from acute alcohol-induced fatty liver.

3. Ginger: A Root Full of Therapeutic Value

  • Ginger contains pungent components such as gingerols, shogaols, paradols, and zingerone.

  • Studies support ginger's effectiveness in alleviating nausea and vomiting during pregnancy or chemotherapy-induced nausea.

  • Ginger exhibits antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, suppressing proinflammatory transcription factor NF-κB and inflammatory cytokines.

  • Ginger may aid in joint and muscle recovery, reducing muscle pain and inflammation induced by exercise.

  • In addition to its potential antiglycation properties, ginger supplementation has shown benefits in improving insulin sensitivity and promoting fat oxidation, making it relevant for weight management.

4. Black Pepper: Unraveling the Power of Piperine

  • Black pepper's major active constituent is piperine, which has an antioxidant effect.

  • Piperine inhibits enzymes (like 5-lipoxygenase and COX-2) involved in proinflammatory mediator biosynthesis, reducing inflammation and pain.

  • Animal studies suggest piperine's antiallergic effects, inhibiting histamine release and eosinophil infiltration.

  • Black pepper aids digestion by enhancing digestive enzyme activity and increasing gastric acid and bile acid secretion.

  • Piperine's ability to enhance nutrient bioavailability makes it a valuable bioavailability enhancer for various substances.

5. Turmeric: Unleashing the Potential of Curcuminoids

  • Turmeric's active constituents, curcuminoids, include curcumin, demethoxycurcumin, bisdemethoxycurcumin, and tetrahydrocurcumin.

  • Curcumin exhibits potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities, inhibiting key inflammatory mediators.

  • Turmeric's potential benefits extend to gastrointestinal health: In a small-scale pilot trial, researchers explored the effects of a standardized turmeric extract on the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a common functional bowel disorder. The study involved 207 healthy adults, who were given either a 72 or 144 mg dosage of the turmeric extract over an 8-week duration. Remarkably, the participants experienced a substantial reduction in the pain and discomfort they had been facing, with the scores showing an impressive decline of 22–25%.

  • Turmeric was shown to improve cognitive function preservation.

  • Studies have found turmeric effective in alleviating joint inflammation and pain, comparable to ibuprofen in one study.

  • Turmeric also shows promise in blood glucose control, weight management, and liver health improvement.

6. Fenugreek: A Seed of Diverse Health Support

  • Fenugreek seeds contain galactomannan, steroidal saponins, free amino acids, flavonoids, and alkaloids.

  • Animal studies suggest that 4-hydroxyisoleucine from fenugreek seeds supports glucose and lipid metabolism.

  • Fenugreek may enhance muscle glycogen resynthesis after exercise thus promoting enhanced recovery.

  • Fenugreek may reduce liver triglyceride accumulation.

  • This spice has hormone modulatory activity, with potential relief for menopausal symptoms and enhanced sexual desire in women.

In conclusion, spices are more than just delightful additions to our meals; they harbor a treasure trove of health benefits. From their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties to their potential impact on blood glucose control, weight management, and various health conditions, incorporating these spices into our diets may contribute to overall well-being.

Source: Jiang TA. Health Benefits of Culinary Herbs and Spices. J AOAC Int. 2019 Mar 1;102(2):395-411. doi: 10.5740/jaoacint.18-0418. Epub 2019 Jan 16. PMID: 30651162.

1 Comment

I love putting cinnamon in my coffee grounds so that it percolates with the coffee! Just adds richness and takes any bitterness away. So glad to hear it has so many health benefits!

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