Antioxidant rich herbs and spices

Oct 27, 2008 at 11:08 a.m. ET

Not only do spices and herbs make foods taste great, studies are also finding they pack a powerful dose of antioxidants!

When you hear the word "antioxidant," what comes to mind? Vitamins, berries, vegetables like carrots, and dark chocolate perhaps? Even though herbs and spices might not readily come to mind, maybe they should in the future.  When it comes to antioxidant prowess, did you know that cinnamon vies for top billing right along with blueberries and pomegranate juice? In fact, spices and herbs are extremely rich in antioxidants — with levels comparable to many fruits and vegetables.  So what exactly are antioxidants and why are they so important to our health? Antioxidants are vitamins that interrupt oxidation reactions, and, in most cases, prevent them.  By doing this, Antioxidants provide a range of benefits to our cells including boosting our immune system and reducing inflammation, which is increasingly recognized as a first step in heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other chronic disease.


Consider cinnamon.  One teaspoon of cinnamon, easily added to coffee brews, cereals, or on top of whole grain toast, contains as many antioxidants as a ½ cup of blueberries!  Let's also take a look at thyme.  A teaspoon of this versatile herb contains about the same amount of antioxidants as a carrot or a ½ cup chopped tomatoes. Thyme also contains a variety of beneficial compounds called flavonoids that increase the herb's antioxidant capacity and may offer anti-inflammatory benefits.

Capsaicin & Cayenne

Turning up the heat with chile peppers can help you crank up the antioxidants. Capsaicin is the powerful compound in peppers that gives chilies their heat. The hotter the pepper, the more capsaicin (and antioxidants!) you'll find. Cayenne or ground red pepper contains the most. Since ancient times, Cayenne pepper has been used for its nutritional and medical benefits due to its high sources of vitamins A and C and its ability to boost heart health and aid the digestive system.  Yet all red peppers — including chili powder and the milder paprika — are surprisingly good sources of antioxidants. 


Turmeric is a spice found in yellow curry powder that provides much more than color and flavor.  It is a concentrated source of antioxidants — on par with strawberries, raspberries and cherries.  Even a teaspoon of curry powder, which is a blend of turmeric and other spices, has as many antioxidants as ½ cup of red grapes.


Curcumin, the bright yellow compound in turmeric, has been the focus of several studies. Emerging evidence suggests curcumin may help inhibit the growth of cancer cells, reduce inflammation and safeguard our brain. In preliminary studies, curcumin helped thwart the development of destructive brain plaques. As a result, researchers believe yellow curry may offer the potential to protect against Alzheimer's disease. Other studies suggest spices and herbs may help curb your hunger, act as an age prevention aid, and boost your metabolism — which might make it easier for you to manage your weight.With all the amazing antioxidants associated with spices and herbs, it's a great time to look for ways to incorporate them into your daily diet.  For more tips on using antioxidant rich herbs and spices in your food dishes visit

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