Many of us will make the resolution to eat healthier this year, adding more fruits and vegetables, and less salt and fat, to our diet. But if you really want to spice up health - and those healthy foods - try adding a dash of basil and oregano, or a few cloves of garlic to your diet too.
Using more herbs and spices and fewer traditional seasonings like sugar, salt and fat, can help to improve the overall health benefits - and flavor - of the foods we eat every day, says Suzanna Zick, ND, MPH, a naturopathic physician and researcher at the University of Michigan Health System.
"Adding herbs and spices can help you maintain a healthy weight. Plus, they can help prevent certain cancers, and even lower blood pressure, control blood sugar and improve cardiovascular health."
To help add a dash of "spice" to your life in 2007, Zick offers these tips for picking the best spices for your overall health.
Zick's 10 tips for spicing up your health in 2007:
Instead of salt, use herbs. Common herbs like oregano, thyme, rosemary, parsley and garlic can really bring out the natural flavors in a meal. Zick recommends replacing salt with a tasty combination of basil and oregano on food.
Use fresh garlic for maximum benefit. Garlic appears to help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. "For maximum benefit, you need to have about three medium cloves of garlic per day. Dry garlic or garlic left out too long, lose their healthy benefits," says Zick.
Fight aging: Eat rosemary. Rosemary is one of nature's most powerful antioxidants, says Zick. It's also thought to help with memory, and research is currently underway to determine rosemary's potential cancer-prevention properties.
Basil, oregano and rosemary can help fight colds. Since these three herbs contain strong essential oils, Zick says they potentially can fight against colds and flu. "All three are powerful antioxidants as well," she notes.
Treat chronic coughs with thyme. "The health benefits of thyme are unique. It has been traditionally used to treat coughs, even whooping cough. Thyme is often drunk as a tea," she says.
Got back pain? Eat curry. Research has shown that the substance commonly found in turmeric - a common, bright red spice added to curry mixes - has known anti-inflammatory properties. The substance, curcumin, works in a very similar way to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, Zick says.
Fight cancer: Eat more curry. In addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, research on curcumin has also shown it to shrink pre-cancerous lesions known as colon polyps. Zick says the amount needed for its health benefits is unclear, she suggests including a generous helping of curry or turmeric in a meal.
Lower your blood pressure with "warming spices." These include ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, pepper, cayenne pepper and others. These can make a person feel warm because they bring blood from the center of the body to the skin. This disperses blood throughout the body more evenly, which may decrease blood pressure, according to Zick.
Soothe your aching tummy with ginger. Ginger contains gingerols, which decrease oxidative products in the digestive tract that cause nausea. The key is to eat real ginger and not things flavored artificially like many ginger-ales, in order to reap the benefits, Zick says.
Reduce the sugar, add the spice. If you need to cut back on sugar, Zick suggests adding spices like cinnamon and nutmeg to your sweet snacks instead of sugar. For instance, if you buy unsweetened applesauce, add cinnamon to give it an extra kick.