11 Healthy Herbs and Spices to Help Liven-Up Your Keto Meal Plan
What if we told you optimal health is stashed somewhere in your cupboard, behind the pepper? Or maybe it is the pepper.
Spices have been used as medicinal foods for thousands of years because… well, they work. And many would argue they deliver better results than modern medicines. So, we put together a list of 11 easy-to-find spices that you can keep on hand to liven up your keto meal plan. But every spice on our list can also double as a medicine the next time you need to boost your immune system, calm your stomach, or cleanse your liver.
One Thing First…
Admittedly, there haven’t been billions of research dollars earmarked for advancing the medicinal use of cinnamon. But then, we didn’t really need a modern study to tell us that the human body needs water either. Your instincts let you know that.
So, this is one of those cases where you’re going to have to rely less on your doctor’s advice and more on common sense, grandma’s advice, and holistic practices. It is estimated that only 30% medical schools require med students to get the minimum 25 hours of nutrition training recommended by the National Academy of Sciences. This is according to a study published in the National Library of Medicine. When polled, 88% of medical school instructors expressed the need for additional nutrition training. That said…
If there was one spice to call a medicinal food, it would be turmeric. Turmeric originates from Asian and is a common ingredient in Indian foods. People look to turmeric for a long list of benefits including: Use as a topical anesthetic, anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, anticoagulant, lowering bad cholesterol, diuretic, pain killer (headaches, menstrual pain etc.), skin care, and alleviating digestive problems.
Cinnamon is one of the more commonly-used spices, especially around this time of the year. But it’s also one of the most potent spices for maintaining optimal health. Cinnamon is both anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial, meaning it kills microorganisms, including the ones that can cause you to get sick.
There are several benefits freshly-ground cinnamon may offer: Controlling blood sugar, lowering bad cholesterol, and alleviating gastrointestinal issues.
Nutmeg – perhaps best known for making pumpkin pies awesome – fights off germs that cause cavities with an antibacterial compound. This nutty spice also acts as an anti-inflammatory, and can help fend off cancer by halting the growth of tumors.
Saffron spice is a rather expensive spice. Case in point: You can grab a small 0.6oz shaker of saffron from Walmart for about $18, while an economy-sized 18oz shaker of cinnamon is only $13.99. Saffron offers multiple health benefits when taken alone or added to your food. Saffron is contains potassium, vitamin C, iron and magnesium. In some Asian cultures, saffron is used to treat neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. For everyday use, it can also help you fend off colds, increase stamina, and has also been used as a topical treatment for baldness.
If you have ever used the drugstore toothache medications you most like smelled oil of cloves in it. Cloves are small, flower buds but their medicinal value is big. Cloves are a common ingredient in toothache medicines. They also have anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. Cloves can help speed healing of an upper respiratory infection, and they work as an anti-inflammatory to reduce swelling on the skin when applied topically.
Basil is a common spice used in Mediterranean and Asian foods. It starts off as an edible leaf that sprouts during the summer months. When used as a medicine, basil works great for eliminating skin infections, and treating bug bites because it has antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral, and antimicrobial properties. Basil also helps improve circulation, which strengthens your cardiovascular system.
Often used in Mexican cuisine, cilantro has been relied on for thousands of years for its ability to correct digestive problems. In fact, cilantro is one of the go-to remedies to help new ketoers fight nausea associated with the keto flu. This little spice also lowers blood sugar, helping keep diabetes at bay.
Mustard seed has been used by the Egyptian culture for thousands of years. As small as mustard seeds are, they are a fantastic source of potassium, calcium, omega-3 fats, and magnesium. Mustard can be used to control blood pressure, protect against gastrointestinal problems, has anti-inflammatory properties as well.
If you’ve ever sat down to a traditional Thanksgiving meal, you are probably familiar with the taste of sage. It’s what makes dressing taste like dressing. Fresh sage is just as useful and popular as ground or dried sage. And like most spices, the older sage gets, the less potent it becomes. Research provides ample evidence to support the use of common sage, Spanish sage, and Chinese sage to help restore lost or declining mental functions, including memory. Sage has also been shown to improve your mood and calm anxiety. It has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiviral properties.
Thyme is packed with nutrients. There are six grams of protein, and nearly 100% of your daily vitamin C, vitamin A, and iron in just a half cup of thyme. In addition to its nutrition profile, thyme is most often used to treat gastrointestinal issues like an upset stomach, diarrhea, and gas. Thyme also has anti-inflammatory properties which make it a good choice for relieving the discomfort of arthritis, and thyme has powerful antimicrobial properties, so it helps your body fight off infections from bacteria, whether that bacteria is lurking in your mouth, your throat, or even in contaminated food.
As part of the evergreen family, rosemary is a fragrant, minty perennial commonly used as a dried spice to season foods (including a fantastic gourmet ice cream you can grab in the Edgewood area of east Atlanta). In aromatherapy applications, the scent of rosemary has been shown to boost memory and brain function. Rosemary is also a powerful antioxidant that effectively slows free radical damage in the brain and offers neuroprotective benefits that may be able to protect the brain from the likelihood of permanent damage from a stroke.
Modern society takes for granted the incontrovertible power of food to bring healing. We do ourselves a further disservice by limiting herbs and spices to being just fancier salt to flavor our food. So, now that you have a little more evidence of the power of herbs and spices to promote optimal health, use this list as a sort of launch pad.