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Blog Blog features the latest fitness and clean eating advice from John Holley, MS, CSCS. Blogs focus on exercise, nutrition, sleep, stress reduction and getting the most out of your workouts.


John Holley

The following is an excerpt from my latest book, The Art of Clean Cooking, which is all about enjoying the benefits of herbs and spices in your healthy diet.

The art of clean cooking may be in how you use herbs and spices to make your healthy food delicious, but there’s a lot more to know. The seasonings you use may also provide important health benefits. Here is a breakdown of 12 common herbs and spices and the therapeutic benefits they may provide:

Basil is a versatile herb that can be added to practically anything. It has anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties and can help prevent osteoarthritis. Basil is also being examined for its anti-cancer properties. Fresh basil is amazing (use twice as much as the dried variety in recipes) and can be sprinkled on omelets, meat vegetables and salads or included in soups.

Cayenne pepper is type of chili pepper you may avoid if you don’t like spicy foods. However, don’t shy away from cayenne completely if you are trying to lose weight. The active ingredient in this pepper is capsaicin, which has been shown in numerous studies to reduce appetite and increase fat burning. One gram a day sprinkled on food or added to a smoothie has been shown to aid weight loss in people who normally don’t eat cayenne peppers.

Cinnamon is a spice most of us have shoved to the back of the spice cabinet, but it is time to bring it back into your diet. Cinnamon has the highest antioxidant value of any spice and has been show to reduce inflammation, control blood sugar and lower triglyceride levels. If you are trying to lose weight, it aids in fat burning. The minerals manganese, calcium and iron are found in this spice, which is a great add to everything from curry to coffee to homemade granola.

Cumin is the second most used herb in the world after black pepper. You may be familiar with it as an ingredient in Mexican dishes, but it is also an important addition to dishes with curry powder. Cumin has antimicrobial properties and helps reduce flatulence. Use cumin in chili, Mexican and Middle Eastern recipes.

Fenugreek is most often used in Ayurveda for the enhancement of testosterone levels. While the evidence for this is inconclusive, the science is more promising in regards to its effects on blood sugar. Fenugreek contains the plant protein, 4-hydroxyisoleucine, which can improve the function of the hormone insulin, thereby reducing blood sugar levels. Fenugreek can be added to the curry recipe in this guide.

Garlic is another very common seasoning and you may already know how much flavor it adds to your favorite recipes. Fresh cloves of garlic are best for flavor and for garlic’s anti-cancer benefits, but you can find it in powdered, granulated and powdered forms.

Ginger has way more to offer than a cookie recipe. Studies consistently find 1 gram of ginger successfully treats nausea, including that caused by morning sickness, chemotherapy and motion sickness. Ginger also possesses strong anti-inflammatory properties and can help with pain management in a manner similar to aspirin or ibuprofen. For greatest benefit, you can boil ginger root to make tea or grate it onto food.

Mint is easy to grow and thrives all over the world. You are probably most familiar with its use in toothpastes, gums and teas, but it can be used in meat dishes, on salads and in dessert recipes. Mint helps alleviate nausea and calm digestive troubles.

Oregano is part of the mint family, but stands on its own as a versatile herb. Common to Italian and Greek cuisine, oregano has antiviral, antibacterial, anticancer and antibiotic properties. It is very high in antioxidants and has antimicrobial properties against food-borne pathogens. Use oregano liberally and in combination with basil, garlic, marjoram, thyme and rosemary for the greatest benefits.

Rosemary is often included in spices blends, but its benefits make it a stand out by itself. It has a high concentration of antioxidants and may have value in cancer treatment, as a digestive aid and in how the body utilizes cholesterol. Rosemary boiled in water can be used as antiseptic. Add it to meat, vegetables and soup recipes.

Thyme is a member of the mint family and contains antioxidant and wound-healing properties. Tea made with thyme can be used to treat athlete’s foot and yeast infections topically, or ingested to speed recovery from illness. Thyme is often used in French and Italian cooking.

Tumeric is gaining renown for its natural anti-inflammatory properties, but is also a staple of Indian cooking. Tumeric contains several compounds with medicinal properties, the most important of which is curcumin. This powerful antioxidant helps fight oxidative damage and boosts the body’s antioxidant enzymes. Morevoer, curcumin has such a strong anti-inflammatory properties it may match the effectiveness of some drugs. Other studies indicate turmeric may improve brain function, relieve arthritis and reduce the risk of heart disease. Add it to eggs, soups, meat recipes, sauces and baked foods.