Like fruits and vegetables, many spices and herbs have been shown to have biologically active compounds that benefit human health. One major benefit is attributed to their ability to reduce inflammation. The inflammatory process is complex, but many health experts agree that chronic inflammation is a common denominator among many chronic diseases.
Cooking with Anti-Inflammatory Spices and Herbs
Since many spices and herbs have anti-inflammatory properties, the bioactive compounds found in plants are often included in dietary supplements and standardized to ensure an amount that has been researched to show benefit. Cooking with these same spices and herbs that are used as supplements, tinctures, teas, and oils can contribute to your overall intake of these healthful plants. There are probably some of these anti-inflammatory seasonings in your spice cabinet right now, but before you get cooking, we have outlined some information on this topic to help you learn more:
What are Spices?
A spice is a plant substance used for flavoring, coloring or preserving food. Turmeric is a spice that is commonly used in the condiment mustard and can play all of the roles just mentioned. Parts of the plant that are used as spices:
What is a Herb Versus a Spice?
Herbs are also plants, and like spices, they are also used for flavoring or as a garnish. Certain herbs such as rosemary are also used for preserving food because of their antioxidant properties. The terms ‘spices’ and ‘herbs’ are sometimes used interchangeably but are distinct botanically and in culinary use. Parts of the plant that are used as herbs:
What are Anti-Inflammatory Spices?
Anti-inflammatory spices contain active compounds that have been shown to reduce one or more markers of inflammation. Some markers and mediators of inflammation used in research and diagnosis include:
- Tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α)
- Nuclear factor kappa-B (NF-κB)
- Cyclooxygenases (COX) and Lipoxygenases (LOX)
- High-sensitivity C-reactive protein (CRP)
TNF-α, NF-κB and interleukins are cytokines (signaling proteins involved in triggering the inflammatory response). For example: fat tissue, especially the type of abdominal visceral fat seen in obesity, can secrete pro-inflammatory cytokines leading to systemic inflammation in people with obesity.
9 Spices with Anti-Inflammatory Properties:
- Sesame has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties in preclinical and clinical studies.
- Turmeric (and its main bioactive constituent, curcumin) is a very popular anti-inflammatory spice with many studies demonstrating efficacy. Clinical and preclinical studies indicate that turmeric and curcuminoids like curcumin may help manage atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and more.
- Ginger was shown to reduce CRP and inflammatory cytokines in participants with diabetes and osteoarthritis.
- Saffron has demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects in preclinical studies. In participants with allergic asthma, saffron reduced CRP levels.
- Garlic has anti-inflammatory activity in preclinical and clinical studies. In a study of overweight and obese women with osteoarthritis, garlic improved pain and reduced the pro-inflammatory adipocytokine (a cytokine produced by fat cells) called resistin.
- Caraway has some data that it may be beneficial in inflammatory bowel conditions like colitis.
- Cardamom has several clinical and preclinical studies demonstrating anti-inflammatory effects. In obese participants with fatty liver disease, cardamom reduced levels of CRP and inflammatory cytokines. In overweight and obese pre-diabetic women, cardamom reduced CRP. Cardamom may exert its anti-inflammatory effects through inhibiting the NF-κB pathway.
- Nutmeg has some preclinical data indicating it may have potential as a pain reliever due to its inhibition of COX enzymes, a mechanism similar to some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Paprika prevented an inflammatory response from UV damage to skin in people. Paprika also suppressed TNF-α and resistin in adipocytes (fat cells).
Cooking with spices and herbs is a great way to add flavor to your food and expand your palate beyond table salt. Different cultures often have a set of spices associated with the particular cuisine. In addition to isolated spices, you can find spice blends designed for seasoning specific types of cuisine or proteins in your grocery store, at your local farmers market, or even at dedicated spice stores.