No meal or snack should be naked. That’s what dietitian Monica Auslander Moreno tells her clients. “Herbs and spices make food tastier while boosting your health,” says Moreno, an adjunct professor of nutrition at the University of Miami and a dietitian for the Miami Marlins. “You should be cooking with herbs and spices regularly -- and, if possible, using several at a time.”
Herbs, like basil, are the leaves of a plant, while spices, like cinnamon, are usually made from the seeds, berries, bark, or roots of a plant. Both are used to flavor food, but research shows they’re chock-full of healthy compounds and may have health benefits. “Herbs and spices fight inflammation and reduce damage to your body’s cells,” Moreno says. “That’s because each one is rich in phytochemicals, which are healthful plant chemicals.”
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Adding herbs and spices to your diet has another benefit: “Because they’re so flavorful, they make it easier to cut back on less healthy ingredients like salt, sugar, and added fat,” says Adrienne Youdim, MD, an associate clinical professor of medicine at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine.
Choose the Real Thing
You may have noticed that some herbs and spices are sold as supplements (oregano oil or capsules of cinnamon extract, for example). Unless your doctor recommends otherwise, “it’s best to eat the herb or spice instead of taking it in pill form,” Youdim says.
She says there aren’t many regulations about supplements and there’s little government oversight. So a capsule may not have the amount of something that it claims to, or it may have unhealthy additives.
“Food is an army,” Moreno says. “Compounds from herbs and spices as well as the other foods you’re eating work together to provide health benefits. We don’t know if you get the same result from taking a single ingredient as a supplement.”
Best Herbs for Your Health
If you’re new to cooking with herbs and spices, Moreno recommends trying a pinch at a time to figure out which ingredients and flavor combinations you like.