Plus, mouth-watering suggestions for adding them to your daily diet
As an Italian American, preparing delicious food has always been a huge part of my life. And using flavorful, aromatic herbs and spices in my cooking helps me do just that.
For one, they add lots of brightness and depth to some of my favorite dishes—such as ribeye steak, swordfish, and frittatas.
And—more importantly—they contain powerful, natural compounds that can truly TRANSFORM your health.
So, allow me to share some impressive research on the many health benefits of herbs and spices—while highlighting FIVE FAVORITES that are always in my kitchen.
(I’ll also give you mouth-watering suggestions for how to incorporate them into your homecooked meals—as well as supplement recommendations so you can take full advantage of their effects.)
SLASH blood pressure in just four weeks
One of the best things about herbs and spices is that you can’t overdo them. In fact, the more you use in your cooking… the greater the health benefits.
And that’s exactly what researchers from Penn State and Texas Tech University found when they tested the effect of three different “doses” of herbs and spices on blood pressure (BP).
To start, researchers recruited 71 men and women with known risk factors for heart disease. Participants followed a Standard American Diet (SAD)—full of sugar, starches, and processed, packaged foods. (Yet another serious risk factor for heart disease.)
Then, they added a blend of 24 different herbs and spices (including two of my favorites, turmeric and cinnamon) at three different “doses” to their SAD:
- “High”—6.5 grams per day (about 1.5 teaspoons)
- “Medium”—3.2 grams per day (a little over 3/4th of a teaspoon)
- “Low”—0.5 grams per day (about 1/10th of a teaspoon)
The participants consumed the herbs and spices at each “dose” over four weeks, with a two-week break in between.
Before each dosing period and during the two-week break, the researchers also collected 24-hour BP readings. (Researchers think these readings give a more accurate picture of heart health and cardiovascular event risk.)
It turns out, even just a “medium” dose of herbs and spices lowered systolic BP (the top number) over a 24-hour period. And—a “high” dose proved even more effective…
Lowering both systolic and diastolic BP (the bottom number) over a 24-hour period!
I’d say these findings are quite remarkable. Especially considering the participants were still just following the SAD. (Just imagine how much improvement they could have achieved if they’d adopted a heathy diet. But I digress.)
Now, let’s move on and focus a bit more closely on FIVE of my FAVORITE herbs and spices shown to BOOST your health (and SATISFY your palate)…
FIVE superstar herbs and spices
Hippocrates urged us to “let food be thy medicine.” But that’s not to say your food has to be boring or bland.
In my view, some of the most delicious dishes on the planet contain these FIVE tasty-yet-healing herbs and spices…
Turmeric is an ancient, golden spice from India that gives curry its distinctive flavor and color.
It acts as a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. And it has a long list of benefits against many chronic conditions—including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, ulcers, depression, and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
It may even help regenerate damaged blood vessels…
In fact, scientists at the University of California-Riverside recently discovered that curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) promotes the production of a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor (VGEF), which the body uses to make new blood vessels.2
This advancement means we may one day use it to replace clogged blood vessels and other tissues harmed by disease or aging!
And that’s not all… research suggests curcumin can also help prevent cancer as well as slow its development and spread. It seems to work by blocking the inflammatory pathways associated with the disease.3
It can also transform “bulletproof” cancer stem cells into ordinary cancer cells, making them easier for both conventional cancer therapies and your own immune system to target and destroy. 4
In one recent study, 15 patients with advanced-stage, progressive colon cancer took between 440 and 2,200 mg per day of curcumin alongside their regular chemotherapy.
After just four months on this regimen, one-third of patients achieved “stable disease” status on CT scans. And they remained stable for at least three months… or longer!
Curcumin is so good for all that ails you—I recently placed it on my “Desert Island” supplement list. Here are some suggestions for how to get more of it into your diet:
In the kitchen: Curried Chicken Roti (Caribbean Curry)
This West and East Indian delicacy is a savory stew made with chicken, chickpeas, onions, garlic, paprika and, of course, turmeric. You can serve it with a type of bread called roti or eat it right out of the bowl, as I do, no bread added.
Of course, you can also add a few dashes of turmeric to just about any type of salad, salad dressing, or sautéed greens for an added infusion of flavor.
As a supplement: I’m also a huge fan of turmeric (and its active ingredient curcumin) when taken as a supplement. I recommend 600 mg twice daily (that dosage should yield 180 mg of curcuminoids, twice daily).
Now, let’s move on to another amazing spice that enhances your health and your cooking…
Garlic (Allium sativum) is featured heavily in the culinary traditions of many countries around the world—especially Italy, where my family comes from. It closely relates to the Rakkyo Negi onion (an onion found in Asia), scallion, chive, leek, and shallot. And, just like turmeric, it has a long history of medicinal use…
In fact, Hippocrates even promoted the use of garlic for treating respiratory problems, parasites, poor digestion, and fatigue.
Modern research shows garlic can also help prevent and treat many problems involving the cardiovascular system, including: atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, heart attack, coronary heart disease, and hypertension.5
In one recent study, researchers found that garlic extract supplementation:
- Improves blood lipid (fat) profile
- Strengthens blood antioxidant potential
- Slashes systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings
Some of the most impressive research into garlic involves its effectiveness against many different types of cancer, including brain, breast, colorectal, lung, prostate, and stomach cancers.
And in one notable study conducted in China, people who ate raw garlic at least twice a week during a seven-year period had a 44 percent lower risk of developing lung cancer.
Garlic also helps soothe achy joints and acts as a natural antibiotic! In fact, one study found that the diallyl sulfide in garlic is 100 times more effective than two popular antibiotics in fighting the campylobacter bacterium—one of the most common causes of intestinal infections.
There are also reports that garlic protects against liver injury in drinkers. And it even wards off the common cold!
With all those impressive benefits, you can see why I add garlic to almost every dish I make. Here are some suggestions for how to get more of it into your diet:
In the kitchen: Shrimp Scampi
For this simple dish, sauté garlic and butter in a pan until fragrant. Then, add fresh, peeled shrimp. Season with salt, pepper, and fresh parsley. Instead of serving it over pasta, try serving it with some fresh zucchini or shirataki noodles.
As a supplement: I recommend 1,000 mg of garlic bulk extract, twice daily.
Now, let’s move onto a warm, aromatic spice that dates back to ancient Egypt…
Cinnamon is often dubbed “the world’s oldest spice.” It has been used medicinally for thousands of years to treat everything from coughs and arthritis to bacterial infections and digestive problems. Today in the U.S. and Europe, it’s the second most popular spice, after black pepper.
Of course, most modern research into cinnamon involves its effect on blood sugar…
In one recent study, 51 people with prediabetes took either 500 mg of cinnamon or a placebo three times a week for 12 weeks.6
In that short amount of time, people who took cinnamon lowered their abnormal fasting glucose levels and improved their body’s response to eating a carb-heavy meal. And that’s key—because research shows you can ward off a full-blown Type 2 diabetes diagnosis if you make the right dietary changes at the very first sign of trouble!
In another study, even people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes experienced significant improvement after supplementing with cinnamon. Specifically, they improved their blood sugar levels as well as their triglycerides (blood fats) in as little as 40 days.7
Talk about a fast-acting, powerful, natural solution to blood sugar problems!
For a quick dose of this sugar-buster, sprinkle it into a cup of morning tea or onto your crêpes with turkey sausage. Here are other suggestions:
In the kitchen: Low-carb, cinnamon swirl cheesecake
My friend Joe makes low-carb, guilt-free desserts. They’re so good, he really ought to start selling them. This option in particular has all the decadence and flavors of a regular cheesecake… but without the added sugar. Since Joe uses a “secret recipe,” a quick search on the internet will yield some results—many combine ingredients like almond flour, a natural sweetener like stevia, cinnamon, butter, cream cheese, eggs, and vanilla extract. (See… the ingredient combinations in your kitchen are virtually endless!)
As a supplement: I generally only recommend Ceylon cinnamon supplementation for my patients with Type 2 diabetes or prediabetes. In those cases, the dose is 1,000 mg, twice daily. And, as always, be sure to consult with your physician before adding cinnamon to your blood sugar management regimen.
Now let’s move onto a spicy staple in my kitchen…
Cayenne peppers are a kind of hot chili pepper. They contain capsaicin—a versatile compound with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-cancer, and blood regulation effects. Plus, research shows eating cayenne pepper regularly can add YEARS to your life.
In fact, a major meta-analysis recently looked at the impact of eating chili peppers like cayenne on mortality (death) risk.8
It turns out, those who ate the most chili peppers had up to a 26 percent lower risk of dying of cardiovascular disease, cancer, or all causes compared to those who ate the least.
Pretty amazing results for something found in your kitchen!
So, try to regularly add some cayenne into your cooking. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
In the kitchen: Cayenne-Crusted Chicken
This spicy dish may not be for everyone. But it’s so delicious and simple to make that I often turn to it for a quick, healthy meal. Just rub a whole, organic chicken with about 1 tablespoon of cayenne pepper and some chopped, fresh garlic. Then, roast it for about 1 hour in a 425° oven until the thigh part of the chicken reads 170 to 175° or the breast is 150° (using a meat thermometer). I recommend taking the bird out of the oven before it reaches that temperature and let it rest for 10 minutes before carving it.
I also like to toss fresh cayenne peppers into salads and stir fries to kick things up a notch. In addition, I’ll sprinkle some ground, dried cayenne pepper on eggs, in dips, soups, and stews, or on just about any kind of meat or fish. It really has endless uses in the kitchen!
As a supplement: I sometimes recommend a daily dose of 40,000 SHU, mainly to help support heart health. You can also rub over-the-counter (OTC) creams made with capsaicin onto stiff, achy joints for quick, drug-free relief.
Last but not least, let’s talk about the fifth spice on our list…
Ginger helps alleviate migraine-related pain, nausea, and vomiting. It’s also safe for nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy, chemotherapy, postoperative states, motion sickness, and other diseases and disorders.
Plus, modern research shows ginger has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects—helping to lower prostaglandins (which cause blood clots), high blood sugar, and triglycerides.
I love ginger so much, I cook with it almost daily! I use it dried or freshly grated off the root in stir fries, salad dressings, and salads themselves. Yum!
Here’s how you, too, can get more of it into your diet:
In the kitchen: Fresh ginger salad dressing
Shred some ginger root to taste (minimum 1 teaspoon) and combine it with 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise and 4 tablespoons of heavy cream. Mix in some crushed black pepper and sea salt to taste.
As a supplement: I recommend 400 mg daily with 5 percent active gingerols.
As you can see here, tasty food can definitely be thy medicine… if you would only let it!
For more inspiration, check out my cooking show,
Cooking with Dr. Fred, on Instagram (@DrFredNYC) and YouTube (“The Dr. Fred Show”). You can also order yourself a copy of my very own A-List Diet book (www.AListDietBook.com) to gain access to hundreds of healthy recipes using these five herbs and spices, among many others.
- “Four weeks of spice consumption lowers plasma proinflammatory cytokines and alters the function of monocytes in adults at risk of cardiometabolic disease: secondary outcome analysis in a 3-period, randomized, crossover, controlled feeding trial.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2022; 115(1):61-72. Doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqab331
- “Turmeric compound helping scientists create lab-grown blood cells that heal the body.” Study Finds, 4/8/22. (studyfinds.org/turmeric-compound-lab-grown-cells/)
- “Curcumin and Cancer.” Nutrients, 2019; 11(10): 2376. Doi.org/10.3390/nu11102376
- “Pharmacodynamic and Pharmacokinetic Study of Oral Curcuma Extract in Patients with Colorectal Cancer.” Clinical Cancer Research, 2001; (7): 1894-1900.
- “What are the benefits of garlic?” Medical News Today, 8/18/18. (medicalnewstoday.com/articles/265853)
- “Cinnamon may improve blood sugar control in people with prediabetes.” Science Daily, 2020. (sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/07/200721102143.htm>.)
- “What are the health benefits of cinnamon?” Medical News Today, 1/3/20. (medicalnewstoday.com/articles/266069)
- “Chili Pepper Consumption Linked to Better Midlife Survival.” Medscape, 11/23/20. (medscape.com/viewarticle/941463)
- “Ginger for Migraine: A New Review.” Medscape, 12/15/21. (medscape.com/viewarticle/964887#vp_1)