17 Herbs and Spices That Fight Diabetes

Food that battles diabetes doesn't have to be bland, if you use the right spices.

January 12, 2015
herbs-spices

You can make your meals even healthier (and tastier, too!) while strengthening your fight against the diabetes-inducing inflammation in your body. How? We will look to nature and whole plant foods. 

All of the herbs and spices listed here have anti-diabetic and/or anti-inflammatory properties and can be sprinkled on any meal to help reduce the chronic inflammation in your body. So when you're cooking your next meal, toss in some of the herbs and spices listed below. And don't be afraid to experiment in order to get it just right: By trying new combinations, you'll learn which herbs and spices offer the best flavors for your dishes and how much you prefer to use.

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Basil
(Ocimum basilicum) is that aromatic kitchen herb that reminds us of summer, Italy, and good eating times. It is fragrant in salads, soups, and pesto. In a study of herbal infusions of kitchen herbs, turmeric, rosemary, marjoram, oregano, and basil were the five front-runners in flavonoid content. And basil, specifically, lowers blood sugar.

More: 10 Blood Sugar-Lowering Foods

Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillum) is the European form of blueberries. Bilberries are superior to blueberries because they are blue throughout, whereas our form is blue only on the outside. And the blue color carries anthocyanins—the wholesome antioxidants that fight diabetes, strengthen your heart, and lower inflammation and blood fats.

A study conducted at the Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition found that regular consumption of fresh bilberries (400 grams daily) reduced inflammation markers and improved glucose tolerance in people with features of metabolic syndrome. When compared with the control group (who maintained their habitual diets), researchers found that the levels of inflammation marker interleukin-6 were 20 percent lower in those who increased their consumption of bilberries. 

Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) lowers blood sugar and prevents diabetic complications by taking the sugar out of your blood and putting it into storage in your liver. And after a day of hard work, there is hardly anything more calming and soothing than a cup of chamomile tea!


Cinnamon
(Cinnamomum verum) lowers blood sugar, according to several studies. But a recent Cochrane meta-analysis did not find significant reductions in fasting blood sugar (FBS), insulin resistance, or hemoglobin A1c. Then again, another meta-analysis found that cinnamon did lower hemoglobin A1c. Either way, cinnamon is loaded with phytonutrients that decrease inflammation and may aid in weight loss by lowering cholesterol and speeding up your metabolism. Of course, when you eat cinnamon on a hot bun, you negate its good effects! So try it on beans, lentils, and brown rice, or in meat stews—always without sugar!

More: 6 Health Problems You Can Cure With Medicinal Herbs

Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) is a spice in the parsley family that goes well with red lentils or brown rice. Use it generously, as cumin lowers blood sugar and cholesterol. Cumin also has a good effect on the advanced glycation end products (AGEs) that are so damaging in diabetes.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a wonderful all-around herb, so you should never try to eradicate this "weed" from your garden. A dark, leafy green, it restocks your body with necessary bitter agents, lowers your blood pressure, and heals your liver. Like nettles, dandelions increase urinary flow and, thereby, support a mild cleansing action. And dandelion is said to help with weight loss, which is paramount for most people with diabetes.


Dill
(Anethum graveolens) goes well with fish, eggs, or mushrooms. Dill originated in the Middle East and southwestern Russia, but had already found its way into European kitchens and apothecaries by the Middle Ages. At that time, it was mainly used to increase milk production in women. Now it is being investigated as an agent against diabetes. James Duke's Ethnobotanical Database lists 70 different chemicals in dill that help fight diabetes.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), when eaten as vegetable, has a taste like no other—elegant, with a lingering hint of anise. The plant's seeds, on the other hand, have a stronger aroma; they make the famous fennel tea for colicky babies. Both the vegetable and the seeds contain chemicals that work against diabetes. Anethole, one of the phytochemicals found in fennel, blocks several inflammatory agents in the body and fights cancer. It's traditional in India to chew on fennel seeds after a meal to clean your teeth and freshen your breath. If you like the flavor of strong cough drops, fennel is a good cough suppressant (in addition to helping with diabetes and gastrointestinal ailments), and the essential oil is available in capsules.

Garlic (Allium sativum) gives Italian and Mediterranean cuisines their specific flavors, together with basil, oregano, and olive oil. Garlic is good for your heart and protects you from cancer, as do onions, shallots, and chives, which are in the same plant family. Garlic exhibits the strongest anti-inflammatory force among them, suppressing exactly those cytokines acting up in diabetes. 

More: 30 Herbs for Cold & Flu Season

But garlic can do more: It lowers blood sugars and lipids, as well as C-reactive protein—a marker of inflammation. Pretty much any vegetable becomes palatable when dressed with garlic and olive oil. In a pinch, I use dried garlic in my kitchen, well aware that it does not have the same good effects as fresh; raw, freshly sliced garlic seems to have the maximal potency.


Ginger
(Zingiber officinale) is the perfect herb to fight diabetes and high blood lipids because it attacks diabetes from several sides, and even helps with weight loss. In fact, a 2012 study conducted by nutritionists at Columbia University found that subjects burned an extra 43 calories after consuming a breakfast that contained a hot ginger beverage. In addition, those who drank the beverage, which contained 2 grams of dry ginger powder, reported greater satiety three hours later than those who didn't consume the ginger.

In a separate study, published in Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, diabetic patients who consumed 3 grams of dry ginger powder in divided doses for 30 days experienced a significant reduction in blood glucose (17 percent), triglyceride (9 percent), total cholesterol (8 percent), LDL (12 percent), and VLDL cholesterol (9 percent). Most of the time, I have fresh ginger at home and cut a few thin slices into my hot tea. Use this Asian spice in as many dishes as you can. It goes well with meat and poultry dishes, and vegetarian fare, too.

Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) contains natural antioxidants that fight diabetes, heart disease, aging, and cancer. And it adds great flavor to teas. Try to get it loose and fresh instead of in tea bags. Peppermint relaxes the muscles that close the stomach from the esophagus; people with reflux should, therefore, avoid peppermint. For all others it is a tasty tea that aids digestion.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a heart tonic, important in the treatment of metabolic syndrome. Rosemary's most active phytochemical, carnosol, lowers oxidative stress, and so is effective in fighting inflammation and cancer. You can harvest these properties by using rosemary in your cooking, especially when you're preparing meats, stews, and stir-fries. Or try brewing a relaxing rosemary tea.

More: Can Going Vegetarian Cure the U.S. of Diabetes?


Sage
(Salvia officinalis) contains antioxidants that have been shown to fight diabetes. Its strong taste works well in stews, while the tea is soothing and calming. Like all aromatic kitchen herbs, sage is high in polyphenols; its rosmarinic acid content is higher than that of rosemary itself. That phenolic compound shows promise in the battle against Alzheimer's. Sage and honey tea works against viral and bacterial colds because when sage and honey are combined, they have enhanced anti-germ power.

Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) is the only sweetener that is not detrimental to those with diabetes—even though it is many times sweeter than table sugar. While using stevia won't help to eliminate your sweet tooth, stevia does have positive effects on postprandial blood sugar and insulin levels. You can grow the plant in a pot on your windowsill. One little leaf goes a long way.

Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is a fine herb that has been shown to lower insulin resistance and decrease overeating in diabetics. The French kind of tarragon (var. sativa) does not easily propagate, but the Russian and American kinds (A. dracunculus) have spread invariably over most of the temperate world. Unfortunately, the American species does not have the same hypoglycemic effect, so you might have to shell out a bit more for the French type.


Thyme
(Thymus spp.) contains 75 active phytochemicals that work against diabetes, and its delicious aroma enhances any dish. Thyme supports inflammation-fighting cytokines and helps certain immune cells (macrophages) secrete agents that douse inflammation.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa), the yellow root popular in Indian cuisine and always present in curries, is probably the best herb or spice for preventing cancer. Turmeric is an ideal spice for those with diabetes, as research has proven it has anti-inflammatory, antiaging, antioxidant, neuroprotective, anti-atherosclerotic, heart-protecting, weight-reducing, and anti-infectious actions. All of these benefits have been attributed to its main ingredient, curcumin.

According to a study published in the journal Diabetes Care, 240 people, all of whom had been diagnosed with prediabetes, were assigned to take either daily curcumin capsules (1,500 mg) or a placebo for nine months. At the end of the study, researchers found that 16.4 percent of subjects who took the placebo developed type 2 diabetes, while no one who took the daily dose of curcumin developed diabetes.

Adapted from The Diabetes Cure