Healthy seasonings—herbs and spices—can make a difference in your fitness. Herbs and spices come with two big fitness benefits, says Connie Cheng, Gold’s Gym wellness director. They are concentrated with antioxidants, which are substances that help fight damage to cells that can lead to disease, and they enable us to make food more flavorful without adding fat and sugar. (The calories they contain per serving are minimal.)
Antioxidants are known to fight against inflammation and damage to tissues and organs, which can lead to disease. While they are not a guaranteed source of prevention, eating them consistently doesn’t hurt, Cheng says.
A quick breakdown: Herbs and spices are often considered interchangeable terms when talking about healthy seasonings, but there is a distinction. Although both come from plants, herbs are leaves, while spices can come from the seeds, roots, bark or other parts. Also, spices tend to have stronger flavors than herbs.
5 healthy herbs and spices to try
Here are five herbs and spices that are known for their anti-oxidant properties and big flavors.
- Clove. “A little goes a long way for flavor and nutrition,” Cheng says. “Half a teaspoon has the same amount of antioxidants you would get in half a cup of blueberries.” The sweet-and-spicy flavor is often added to oatmeal, baked goods and stewed apples and pears.
- Oregano. Compared with other Mediterranean spices (thyme, sage, rosemary, mint, basil), oregano is the richest in antioxidants — specifically those related to brain health, according to some studies. “It’s an easy herb to add to any dish,” Cheng says. “Try it on sandwiches or eggs, in addition to your pasta sauce.”
- Ginger. There is some research that shows ginger helps fight against colds, stomachaches and motion sickness. Add it to sautéed veggies or marinades to give your food an Asian twist.
- Cinnamon. “A teaspoon can pack more of an antioxidant punch than a whole serving of leafy greens, spinach, chard or cabbage,” Cheng says. It’s best to consume the spice itself, rather than a tablet or capsule, because the casing can be hard to digest and you won’t absorb as much of the spice as you would otherwise.
- Turmeric. This comes from the same root as ginger and is linked to bone and joint health. “Because of its strong flavor, it’s best to cook it before eating,” Cheng says. “Add it to any veggie dish for a curry flavor.”
It doesn’t matter if herbs and spices are fresh or dried — testing shows that the amount of antioxidants remains the same, Cheng says, so add them to your healthy recipes whichever way you prefer.
Healthy seasonings’ flavor profiles
Fat and sugar are what give food flavor, Cheng says. Processed sauces and seasonings can contain a lot of both. If your goal is to cut down on calories, you’ll want to try using whole or ground herbs and spices instead of adding condiments to every dish.
That doesn’t mean your food has to be bland. See the chart below to get a snapshot of the wide variety of herbs and spices used in different cuisines.
Keep in mind that herbs and spices start to lose their flavor over time. Dried herbs have a shelf life of one to two years, and ground spices have a shelf life of two to three years. Whole spices, such as peppercorns, can last three to four years.
Get more nutrition tips and recipes on our blog: