New Year, Younger You -- 20 Anti-Aging Herbs and Spices to Add to Your Diet

spice, herb, anti-aging, foodThe typical American diet that is high in simple carbohydrates--white flour, white salt, and processed food--is aging us. We are getting all the bulk without the nutrients, plus adding to our propensity for developing real food cravings. So whether you are a vegetarian or an omnivore, you can start to reverse aging by simply choosing to eat the right foods to keep you full of vim, vigor, and vitality, especially over the holidays.

The easiest way to make sure you are getting more nutrients into every meal.

Every time you flavor your meals with herbs or spices you are literally "upgrading" your food without adding a single calorie. You are taking something ordinary and turning it into something extraordinary by adding color, flavor, vitamins, and often medicinal properties.

Here's why:

* Spices and herbs maximize nutrient density. Herbs and spices contain antioxidants, minerals and multivitamins. At the cocktail party, choose the Thai chicken satay stick over the tried and true fried chicken strip.

* Spices and herbs create a more thermogenic diet.
Because spices are nutrient dense, they are thermogenic, which means they naturally increase your metabolism.

* Some spices and herbs increase your overall feeling of fullness and satiety, so you'll eat less. One study conducted at Maanstricht University in the Netherlands showed that when one consumes an appetizer with half a teaspoon of red pepper flakes before each meal, it decreased their calorie intake by 10-16 percent.

* Spices and herbs have real medicinal properties. Study after study shows the benefits of distinct herbs and spices. For example, one 2003 trial of 60 people with type 2 diabetes reported that consuming as little as two teaspoons of cinnamon daily for six weeks reduced blood-glucose levels significantly. It also improved blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, perhaps because insulin plays a key role in regulating fats in your body.

Choose flavor over blandness every time, and try to incorporate these specific herbs and spices into your diet if you have the following health concerns:

  • rosemary and basil for their anti-inflammatory power
  • cumin and sage for their dementia-fighting power
  • cayenne and cinnamon for their obesity-fighting power
  • coriander and cinnamon for their sugar regulating powers
  • lemon grass, nutmeg, bay leaves and saffron for their calming effects on your mood
  • turmeric for its cancer fighting power
  • oregano for its fungus-beating power
  • garlic, mustard seed and chicory for their heart-pumping power
  • basil and thyme for their skin-saving power
  • turmeric, basil, cinnamon, thyme, saffron, and ginger for their immune-boosting power
  • coriander, rosemary, cayenne, allspice and black pepper for their depression-busting power
Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Spices are absolutely wonderful, and can help make a dramatic difference – adding both flavor and health benefits to your food.

Many plants synthesize substances that are useful to the maintenance of health. These include health-promoting substances like phenols, and their oxygen-substituted derivatives such as tannins.

One study, published in the Journal of Medicinal Foods, found a direct correlation between the antioxidant phenol content of extracts of spices and herbs, and their ability to inhibit glycation and block the formation of AGE compounds that contribute to damage caused by aging and elevated blood sugar levels.

But remember, just like food, most herbs offer the greatest benefits in their unprocessed state, from where the known active ingredients can work synergistically with other agents in the plant.

Small Doses Pack a Big Punch

It may come as a surprise to some that herbs and spices are some of the most potent antioxidants. In fact, on a per gram fresh weight basis, oregano and other herbs rank even higher in antioxidant activity than fruits and vegetables, which are known to be high in antioxidants.  

Compared to the antioxidant activities of a few select fruits and vegetables, the potency of oregano ranks supreme. It has 42 times more antioxidant activity than apples, 30 times more than potatoes, 12 times more than oranges, and 4 times more than blueberries! As an example, one tablespoon of fresh oregano contains the same antioxidant activity as one medium-sized apple.  

I personally love oregano and grow it in my garden every year, as it is a perennial plant and faithfully comes back every year. It is easy to harvest in late summer and fall, and dehydrate and store to use for the following year.

Great Reasons to Spice Up Your Life!

Choosing flavor over blandness can add a beneficial punch to both your taste buds and your health. What could be easier and more gratifying than that?

Here are a compilation of some of the most potent herbs and spices, and their health benefits: 


In the study mentioned above, cloves came out as a clear winner, being the most potent of 24 common herbs and spices found in your spice rack. Fortunately, they have a sweet and spicy, aromatic flavor that makes a great complement to many foods.

Among the clove’s most well-known healing properties is its ability to relieve tooth and gum pain, but it has many benefits beyond that, including:

  • Anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and antioxidant properties
  • Relief from respiratory ailments such as asthma and bronchitis
  • Relief from muscle pains from injuries or arthritis and rheumatism
  • Eliminates intestinal parasites, fungi and bacteria
  • May encourage creativity and mental focus


Cinnamon and cinnamon extracts have previously been shown to effectively lower blood sugar. In one such study, cinnamon was found to increase glucose metabolism 20-fold! In another, half a teaspoon of cinnamon a day significantly reduced blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. It also reduces triglyceride, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol levels among this group. 

Interestingly, cinnamon lowers your blood sugar by acting on multiple levels. It slows the emptying of your stomach to reduce sharp rises in blood sugar following meals, and improves the effectiveness of insulin. It also enhances your antioxidant defenses.  

Researchers have even gone so far as to say cinnamon could play the role of an insulin substitute in the treatment of type 2 diabetes!

Cinnamon’s other benefits include:

  • Supports digestive function
  • Constricts and tones tissues
  • Relieves congestion
  • Relieves pain and stiffness of muscles and joints
  • Relieves menstrual discomfort
  • Blood-thinning compounds that stimulate circulation
  • Anti-inflammatory compounds that may relieve arthritis
  • Helps prevent urinary tract infections, tooth decay and gum disease
  • It’s a powerful anti-microbial agent that can kill E. coli and other bacteria


Nutmeg is another spice that has a variety of healing properties and has been studied by science for a variety of ailments. One recent study, published in the Journal of Medicinal Food discovered that an extract of nutmeg seeds elicited a significant antidepressant-like effect in mice; in some doses comparable in potency to the antidepressants imipramine and fluoxetine.

In fact, reducing anxiety and treating insomnia are two ailments that nutmeg has been traditionally used for.

Another study in the Journal of Bioscience and Bioengineering found that nutmeg oil has antibacterial activity that can significantly reduce certain strains of E. coli.

Nutmeg is also beneficial for:

  • Calming muscle spasms
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Indigestion
  • Joint pain and gout
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Male infertility and impotence
  • Improving concentration
  • Increasing circulation
  • Lowering cholesterol
  • Toothaches (nutmeg oil)

** Please note that nutmeg contains volatile oils comprised of alkyl benzene derivatives, terpenes and myristic acid. The spice has a long history of abuse; taking too much nutmeg (one to three nuts; in some cases less) can cause side effects such as nausea, hallucinations, swelling and shock.


Ginger is another spice with a potent flavor that is great for warming your body and adding kick to foods. Its medicinal properties include:

  • Most notably and reliably known for its consistent ability to resolve  nausea, motion sickness, morning sickness, and other stomach upset
  • Anti-inflammatory properties
  • Eliminates intestinal gas
  • Relaxes and soothes the intestinal tract
  • Antioxidant properties
  • Relieves dizziness
  • Boosts your immune system
  • Protects against bacteria and fungi
  • Encourages bile flow
  • Promotes cardiovascular health


The therapeutic effects of fresh peppermint leaves have been known since ancient times. It’s been used to sooth the digestive tract, and one study published in the journal BMJ earlier this year found peppermint oil may be beneficial in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome.

Other healing properties include:

  • May protect against cancer
  • Inhibits the growth of bacteria and fungus
  • Relieves the symptoms of allergies and asthma


The antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties of curcumin, the powerful yellow spice found in both turmeric and curry powders, has undergone intense research in various parts of the world.

According to researchers from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, curcumin blocks a key biological pathway needed for development of melanoma and other cancers. Results showed that regardless of how much curcumin was used, the spice still worked to stop the growth of melanoma by inducing cell suicide.

Can Some Spice Each Day Keep the Doctor Away?

While there are many benefits to be had by adding spices to your diet, remember that spices, just like drugs and supplements, should not be considered as "cures" for your health problems. They should not be taken every day or you run the risk of developing an allergy to them.

Only by addressing the underlying causes of illness with a healthy diet and lifestyle will you be able to achieve optimal health.

That said, spices used with the above advice in mind are indeed an excellent way to add flavor and healing properties to your diet. They have very low calorie content, they’re relatively inexpensive, and they can turbo-boost the natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory power of your food.

Just remember to use care when selecting your spices.


The U.S. irradiates over 65 million pounds of spices, herbs and dry ingredients each year. Fortunately, in the U.S. and Canada irradiated spices must to be labeled with the international symbol for irradiated foods, the "radura" symbol. So before you purchase a spice, be sure to check the label to ensure that it has not been irradiated.

Naturally, organic varieties are your healthiest option.

+ Sources and References