7 Herbs & Spices Everyone Needs to Eat

Antioxidants abound in your spice cabinet if you know where to look, and how to use them!

November 11, 2015
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Adapted from Bulletproof: The Cookbook

Variety is the spice of life. Or maybe spice is the variety of life? Spices are important for both health reasons and great flavor. So you get a picture of how potent they are, think about this: Just a half teaspoon of ground cinnamon has as many antioxidants as a half cup blueberries, and a half teaspoon dried oregano has the antioxidant power of 3 cups of raw spinach.

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So below, in order of most beneficial, are the top Bulletproof herbs and spices from my book Bulletproof: The Cookbook.

Turmeric 
Turmeric is the king of all spices. Ounce for ounce, it's the most anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, anticancer, antifungal one of the bunch, so you should eat it as much as possible when you're becoming Bulletproof.

In Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, it's used to treat everything from diabetes and allergies to Alzheimer's and arthritis. Turmeric's active ingredient is curcumin, an antioxidant compound that reduces inflammation and also gives it its vibrant yellow color. (Beware getting turmeric on anything white; it stains.) Curcumin has actually been shown to reduce growth in cancer cells, and if there's any good reason to eat a spice, I'd say that's it. Turmeric also contains other anti-inflammatory compounds that inhibit swelling and pain and block the plaques that cause Alzheimer's disease.

So the takeaway is? Eat more turmeric. Add it to salad dressings, meat and fish marinades, or even turmericinfused tea, latte, or lemonade. It's surprisingly tasty.

Chile Peppers and Cayenne 
Cayenne's active ingredient is capsaicin, which delivers both a chile pepper's medicinal qualities and its spicy heat. The hotter a pepper, the more capsaicin it has. In addition to a long history of medicinal uses in India and China, Native American healers favored cayenne for digestive and circulatory problems. For all its good benefits though, there are some negative aspects of capsaicin. Like black pepper, cayenne is highly likely to have high amounts of mold toxins, so proper sourcing and storage is really key.

More: The Truth Behind Bulletproof Coffee

Sourced and stored properly, cayenne is a fantastic source of antioxidants that fight free radicals and protect against cell damage, which often manifests as premature aging. There are promising studies underway to observe whether cayenne inhibits cancer cell growth, but the science is still young.

Ginger 
Ginger has long been used in Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine to combat inflammation and pain, soothe sore muscles, and treat aches and fatigue. It's also a common remedy for digestion as it fights an overgrowth of nasty gut bacteria. The compounds in ginger actually act in a similar way to anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen, that are used to treat arthritis. If more people knew this, more people might be able to find relief from ginger tea or Asian dishes.

Ginger is also great for sore throats, colds, and believe it or not, you can apply it directly to a painful joint with a compress for relief through skin contact. As with all spices and herbs, storage is important for ginger. Poorly stored ginger powder is at risk for mycotoxin contamination and fresh ginger can get moldy in the fridge. So while I want you to use and eat ginger regularly, buy it fresh, use it up, and toss the stuff that's been hanging around. Or, if you go the powdered route (which won't be as potent), be sure to store it someplace away from heat, light, and moisture.

If you decide to cook with ginger and you're using oil, add it at the end of cooking because, cooked with fat, it can get a bitter taste. Also, if you like ginger with your sushi, go for the yellow variety. The pink stuff you see in some restaurants has been colored with an artificial dye. Both kinds have sugar, but the yellow stuff is preferable.

More: 12 Steps to Following a More Bulletproof Diet

Cinnamon 
Cinnamon is most touted for its ability to lower blood sugar in people with diabetes. As with its spicy counterparts, cinnamon contains compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that reduce the likelihood of cellular damage and chronic disease. It's been shown to protect against heart disease by preventing blood platelets from clumping and to inhibit abnormal cell growth, making it a powerful anticancer option. 

Cloves 
Cloves are a rich source of antioxidants that scavenge free radicals and help protect cells. They are also a powerful antifungal in the body, whether ingested or applied topically. Beware, though, clove oil is potent stuff. It's so strong it can be toxic if overused. I recommend using whole cloves whenever possible. 

Sage 
You won't be surprised to learn that sage, too, has anti-inflammatory molecules, which contribute to its flavor and aroma. Sage is specifically thought to protect against inflammation-based neurological conditions, like Alzheimer's, and it shows promise for improving memory and concentration at the same time. Its compounds also have antioxidant and anticancer effects. Packed with camphor, its extracts can be used to kill bacteria and fungi, so it's a powerful spice when eaten, or used in a natural kitchen cleaning solution. 

Rosemary 
Like sage, rosemary contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds. increases the activity of an enzyme that removes free radicals associated with chronic inflammation. This is especially true when the herb is cooked, so add it liberally to vegetables, meats, and other savory cooked dishes. You can use it raw too, as the flavonoids in rosemary have been shown to inhibit the growth of pancreatic cancer cells and prevent hemorrhoids. A hint about using rosemary: If you're going to cook something in oil, add some rosemary and it will help prevent detrimental oxidation to the oil because rosmarinic acid is an antioxidant.