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Spice Up Your Health

spices, herbsYour favorite marinades may provide a beneficial source of natural antioxidants, according to a new study by researchers at The University of Western Ontario.

After analyzing seven popular brands of marinade that contained herbs and spices as their primary ingredients, they found “very good quantities” of antioxidants remained, even after cooking and marinating.

Although marinating meat reduced antioxidants levels by 45-70 percent, there was still a benefit over cooking meat plain, with no marinade.

Consumers can help boost their intake of antioxidants by choosing sauces with the highest levels of antioxidants to begin with, according to researchers.

“Foods rich in antioxidants play an essential role in preventing cardiovascular diseases, cancers, neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, inflammation and problems associated with cutaneous aging,” Science Daily reported.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Set up a good herb and spice cabinet and season your food liberally, and you could potentially double or even triple the medicinal value of your meal!

This is especially true if you use spices on food you intend to eat raw, as cooking reduced the spices’ antioxidant levels by 45-70 percent in the above study.

Still, even in the above study, which used store-bought sauces and marinades (which I don’t recommend because most contain high fructose corn syrup and other unhealthy additives), the researchers found “very good quantities” of antioxidants from the spices contained therein.

Since most herbs offer the greatest benefits in their unprocessed state, if you use high-quality spices directly, you’re likely to get an even greater antioxidant benefit.

Top Reasons to Add More Spice to Your Life

Herbs and spices have very low calorie content, they’re relatively inexpensive, and they’re a great way to turbo-boost the natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory power of your diet. Not to mention that they taste great!

It may come as a surprise to you 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 too.

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.

It is important to note that oregano is a perennial herb which means in most US climates you can plant it and it will come back every year. It is very easy to grow and all you need to do is pick the leaves in the fall and dehydrate them and store in a glass jar and you have an amazing fresh organic herb that you can use year round.

Which Spices are the Healthiest?

Each spice has a unique set of health benefits to offer, but one study, published in the Journal of Medicinal Foods, found a direct correlation between the antioxidant phenol content of many extracts of spices and herbs, and their ability to inhibit glycation and the formation of AGE compounds, making them potent preventers of heart disease and premature aging.

According to this study, the top 10 most potent herbs and spices are:

  1. Cloves (ground)

  2. Cinnamon (ground)

  3. Jamaican allspice (ground)

  4. Apple pie spice (mixture)

  5. Oregano (ground)

  6. Pumpkin pie spice (mixture)

  7. Marjoram

  8. Sage

  9. Thyme

  10. Gourmet Italian spice

Choosing Spices for Their Medicinal Benefits

However, when it comes to herbs and spices, you really can’t go wrong. You should let your taste dictate your choices, choosing the flavors that appeal most to you. You can also choose spices based on their health effects. For instance, the following herbs and spices are some of the best for building a strong immune system that functions correctly:

  • Licorice: Buffers the inflammatory response by increasing steroid output by your adrenal glands; a good buffer if your immune system is over responding to the flu.

  • Turmeric: ORAC (a measure of antioxidant activity) score of 159,277; general immune system booster due to its high antioxidant capacity, and an anticancer agent as well; turmeric is 5 to 8 times stronger than vitamins C and E, and even strong enough to scavenge the hydroxyl radical, which is considered by some to be the most reactive of all oxidant

  • Black Pepper: Increases the bioavailability of just about all other foods -- herbs and other compounds.

  • Oregano: ORAC 13,970; active agent is rosmarinic acid, a strong antioxidant.

  • Cinnamon: ORAC 267,536; powerful antimicrobial agent -- found to kill E. coli and many other bacteria, and also has anti-inflammatory compounds.

  • Cloves: The ORAC grand prize winner at 314,446, highest of all foods tested! Contains eugenol and its mild anesthetic benefits are useful for toothaches and sore throats, also a good anti-inflammatory.

The Huffington Post also recently featured a handy list of herbs based on their health benefits:

  • 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

Another Important Reason to Use Spice-Rich Marinades

BBQ season is nearly upon us in the United States, so I wanted to share a quick tip with those of you who plan to fire up the grill soon.

Grilling is really not a healthy way to cook (ideally you should eat your meat raw or very lightly cooked), but for those of you who aren’t ready to give up cooked meat just yet, marinating meats before grilling or broiling them can reduce heterocyclic amines (according to some experts by 90 percent or more).

Heterocyclic amines (HAs) form when food is cooked at high temperatures, and they’re linked to cancer. (In terms of HA, the worst part of the meat is the blackened section, which is why you should always avoid charring your meat, and never eat blackened sections.)

So aside from adding some antioxidants to your food, a spice-filled marinade can also help cut down on the harmful substances created during the cooking process. I recommend preparing your own marinades at home, using high-quality herbs and spices and only natural ingredients (and keep the coating thin to avoid charring).