Sure, it’s great when you can cut more salt, fat, and sugar out of your diet. But eating bland food every day is a great way to make you swear off healthy meals forever. Good news: Herbs and spices can punch up the flavor of any dish or drink, keep non-essential nutrients to a minimum, and potentially stack some health benefits on your plate. Promising studies continue to emerge showing how herbs and spices may function as well as or even better than some traditional medications. While it’s too early to say that herbs and spices bring about miracle cures, think of these five plants as a tasty trick to add to your healthy-eating toolbox.
1 of 5
Turmeric: For Pain (and so, so much more)
This bright-orange powder is easy to get excited about, since turmeric (pronounced TUR-muh-rihk), is one of the most widely studied spices. A mainstay of Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric has been used for inflammatory conditions, and preliminary evidence from clinical trials suggests it could help with arthritis and certain digestive disorders.
In the United States, Ayurvedic medicine is not a licensed medicinal practice. However, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (an arm of the federal government’s National Institutes of Health) recognizes preliminary studies showing how curcuminoids naturally present in turmeric may help reduce the number of heart attacks bypass patients had after surgery, and may control knee pain in osteoarthritis patients just as well as ibuprofen.
How to eat turmeric: Stir 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric into a cup of hummus. Add it to chicken salad, rice, seafood, roasted vegetables, marinades, and soup. You can drink it by way of turmeric lattes and teas. Check your cabinet for curry powder, too, since turmeric is a main ingredient in this blend used in curry dishes. Fresh turmeric root resembles gingerroot, but is orange inside.
Credit: Alfie Ianni / Getty Images
2 of 5
Ginger: For Nausea
While ginger root has been shown in some studies to help relieve nausea in people who are pregnant or on chemotherapy, it is not clear if ginger alleviates nausea in other situations like motion sickness or post-surgery. Taken daily, up to 1 gram (about a 1/2 teaspoon) of ground ginger has been found to be effective for pregnant women. Other preliminary studies have explored daily doses of ginger reducing pain from osteoarthritis — however, more research needs to be done.
How to eat ginger: Add ground ginger or grated or minced ginger root to smoothies, stir-fries, burgers, and broths.
Credit: Paul Taylor / Getty Images
3 of 5
Garlic: For Your Heart
While the National Cancer Institute recommends eating garlic for its potential to reduce the risk of certain kinds of cancer, it's the heart health benefits that have gotten more clinical attention in the past. Studies have suggested that garlic could reduce factors associated with heart disease (even though more studies are needed for a definitive conclusion). The World Health Organization’s garlic guidelines for general health promotion for adults includes getting about one clove of fresh garlic or 1/8 to 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder daily.
How to get it: Sauté minced garlic in pastas, stir-fries, soups, sauces, and anything with mushrooms. Use garlic powder as a seasoning like you would salt, in addition to using it in recipes like marinades, popcorn, salad dressings, and breading. Try pickled garlic if you’re feeling brave.
Credit: Jamie Grill / Getty Images
4 of 5
Cinnamon: For Your Cholesterol
Cinnamon has long been studied for its effects on blood sugars in patients with Type 2 diabetes. While the studies have been small, show conflicting results, and are not all done on humans, the trend among them has been an association with lower fasting blood sugar and improved lipid panels. No significant effect has been shown on hemoglobin A1c, which represents blood sugar control over time. To reap any potential benefits, though, it’s not accomplished by a dusting on the occasional breakfast roll. The amounts used in the studies ranged from roughly 1/16 teaspoon to 2 1/4 teaspoons per day for four to 18 weeks.
How to eat cinnamon: Shake liberally into coffee, oatmeal, and smoothies, and add to recipes with a Middle Eastern flavor profile. Throw a cinnamon stick into tea, since the beneficial part is water-soluble and not destroyed by heat.
Credit: Matthew O'Shea / Getty Images
5 of 5
Parsley: Instead of a Multivitamin
Fresh parsley is the epitome of fresh and healthy, with its bright greenness and vegetal aroma. If your eating preferences are more advanced than a three-year-old's, but you’re too lazy to cook vegetables, just put parsley on everything. Two tablespoons of chopped raw parsley contain 16 percent of the Daily Value for vitamin C and 12 percent of the Daily Value for vitamin A.
How to eat parsley: Top chefs prefer Italian flat-leaf parsley over curly. Sprinkle coarsely chopped parsley on chicken, fish, and meatballs. Add whole or torn leaves to salads. Toss sprigs into smoothies. If you want to show off, blanch parsley and blend it into a bright green sauce for fish. Don’t bother with dried parsley. It tastes like dust.
Michelle Dudash, RDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist, Cordon Bleu-certified chef, and cookbook author.
Credit: Kevin Summers / Getty Images