Can eating herbs save your life?

Updated on 29 March 2011 | 0 Comments

We all know spices are healthy, but can they actually save your life?

If the idea of health food has you reaching for a bucket of fried chicken, you could do worse than rethink your attitude to the concept of “healthy” food.

Too often it’s been drilled into us that healthy means boring, flavourless and difficult to digest.

Almost always, following a healthy diet means taking away from what you have on your plate, rather than adding to it.

Herbs and spices go against the grain. You can’t call chilli and cinnamon boring or flavourless, and you add these into a meal – there’s no deprivation going on.

Would a little spicy lift go as far as saving your life, though? A sprinkle of allspice or a few leaves of sage cannot promise that on their own, but these sorts of herbs and spices are at the forefront of medical investigations into new drugs which we may consider life-saving in the future.

“Studies show that spices contain hundreds of components that may be future leads for new drugs,” says Dr Jose M Prieto-Garcia, a lecturer in pharmacology at the University of London’s School of Pharmacy.

It is also better to take things in their natural form rather than mixed up in supplements, unless you can find and afford the high quality supplements that are made from all natural products.

1. Turmeric

Vibrant yellow turmeric, a staple curry spice, is under investigation for breast cancer prevention. One recent study, from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Centre, found that the growth of cells which lead to tumours is limited by a mixture of turmeric and black pepper.

Bill Granger’s Buffalo Rendang is packed with turmeric and lots of other healthy herbs and spices.

2. Allspice

Allspice is a godsend for adding speedy zing to a post-work supper. Along with oregano, sage, thyme, clove and cinnamon, allspice has been found to contain more antioxidants, weight for weight, than fresh fruit and vegetables.

You might already have a failsafe antioxidant element in your diet, - green tea, perhaps - but it is important to pack in a variety.

3. Fennel

Fennel’s aniseed hit is popular. Eaten fresh or as a tea, it helps digestion. But the dietician Jane Clarke has said that it can also work to relieve more serious tummy problems such as IBS. “Both fresh fennel and fennel seeds contain settling camrinative oils, which have a soothing effect when added to a salad, stir fry or roasted with olive oil,” she says.

Henry Dimbleby’s Spanish Pot-Roast Chicken uses fennel seeds.

4. Sage

Sage’s furry green leaves are not the trendiest of herbs, but we’d do well to fall in love with them again. Dee Atkinson of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists claims that sage fights colds and flu. “Heating releases its anti-bacterial and anti-microbial oils,” she says. “The same goes for rosemary and thyme. So, at the first sign of a virus, add them to your cooking.”

Start as you mean to go on with The Hairy Bikers’ roast pork belly with sage and apple.

5. Garlic

Ah, garlic – an oldie, but undoubtedly a goodie. Your gran might have eaten it to fend off a cold, but new studies show that eating one clove a day can lower blood cholesterol. Apparently allicin, the phytochemical in garlic, also slows the hardening of the arteries, thus putting off strokes and heart disease.

Save your breath by mixing your garlic in with Jean-Christophe Novelli’s Salsa Verde Potatoes

6. Chilli

It is thought that chillis can suppress the accumulation of fat and raise your metabolism, according to the UCLA Centre for Human Nutrition. How does this improve your health? Obesity in general has many unpleasant side effects on our health, but putting on weight around your middle can be particularly dangerous, increasing the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and certain cancers.
Antonio Carluccio’s Spaghetti with Garlic Oil and Chilli takes less than 10 minutes to prepare.

7. Cinnamon

Many women suffer from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), where the body reduces its insulin resistance causing weight gain and type 2 diabetes. Cinnamon can help by balancing blood sugar levels.

Andrea Oliver’s Pumpkin Gingerbread is a very sweet treat. Hopefully the cinnamon will balance out some of that sugar.

8. Oregano

A favourite of Italian cooks, oregano should also be a regular choice for red meat lovers. Although red meat is said to contribute to heart disease (because of a chemical released during cooking), when cooked with oregano 70% less of this harmful chemical was produced. 

Also worth your attention:

Northumberland’s chilli farm

Tessa Sanderson’s saltfish

The National Institute of Medical Herbalists




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