Spice up your life, healthy and clean

The aroma of fresh basil, oregano and garlic make Italian cuisine recognizable from a mile away. Vibrant oranges and yellows of Indian dishes from herbs like cinnamon, turmeric and cumin make it easily identifiable. One taste of the heat supplied by the perfect blend of hot peppers, paprika and thyme, and anyone can pinpoint Mexican style cooking.

Herbs and spices provide cultural distinction and flavor to meals. But they also do much more. Thanks to mainstream clinical research, Herbalism, the study of using seeds, berries, roots, leaves, bark or flowers for medicinal purposes is making a comeback.

The recognition of the healthy benefits of herbs slowed down in the 19th century when chemists figured out ways to recreate their medicinal purposes in pill form. By extracting and modifying their active ingredients, modern medicine like Aspirin was created, which was first synthesized using natural compounds found in willow bark.

Although as college students you may not yet be in charge of cooking for yourself and your family, keep in mind that flavoring meals with a variety of herbs and spices is an easy way to further improve a healthy diet. Furthermore, herbs help debunk the myth that eating healthy has to be boring and bland. Trade in calorie packed and highly processed meat marinades for fresh herbs and you are on your way to weight loss.

Here are some herbs worth keeping in the pantry:

Turmeric

Turmeric is known for its earthy flavor and ability to make food a vibrant orange color. It has been found in many studies to prevent and slow the growth of a variety of types of cancer, including tumors of the esophagus, mouth, intestines, stomach, breast and skin. Throughout the world it is known as a natural relief to joint swelling and stiffness caused by arthritis. Try seasoning grilled chicken with turmeric powder.

Garlic

Garlic is worth the bad breath.  It has been found to lower blood triglycerides and total cholesterol. Garlic has a unique set of sulfur-containing compounds that can help control oxidative stress and unwanted inflammation. It is also very high in vitamin B6 and vitamin C, and-has natural antibacterial and antiviral properties. Add garlic and olive oil to a pan when sautéing dark leafy greens.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is known for its ability to lessen sugar’s impact on blood sugar levels in the body. It does this by slowing the rate at which the stomach empties after meals, reducing the rise in blood sugar after eating. This makes it especially beneficial for individuals with type 2 diabetes. It is also an excellent source of fiber and contains the trace minerals, manganese and calcium. Add a sprinkle of cinnamon to morning oatmeal or even in between a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Thyme

Thyme, which is rich in the essential oil thymol, is a powerful antiseptic, antibacterial and a strong antioxidant. It is an excellent source of iron, magnesium and calcium and a food source of dietary fiber. Try using thyme as a great addition to roasted vegetables.

Cayenne

Cayenne, like all chili peppers, contains capsaicin. This gives them that burn-your-mouth heat and makes them beneficial to the body’s inflammatory processes. Beta-carotene, which gives peppers a bright red color, is essential for healthy tissues including the membranes that line the nasal passages, lungs, intestinal tract and urinary tract. Some studies did find a link between cayenne and an increase in metabolism and a decreased in appetite. Try using cayenne powder to brighten up bland white fish, like tilapia.