Modern science is beginning to uncover the ultimate power of spices and herbs, as weapons against illnesses from cancer to Alzheimer’s disease. “We’re now starting to see a scientific basis for why people have been using spices medicinally for thousands of years,” says Bharat Aggarwal, Ph.D., professor at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and author of the upcoming Healing Spices (Sterling, January 2011).
Aggarwal notes that in his native India, where spices tend to be used by the handful, incidence of diet-related diseases like heart disease and cancer have long been low. But when Indians move away and adopt more Westernized eating patterns, their rates of those diseases rise. While researchers usually blame the meatier, fattier nature of Western diets, Aggarwal and other experts believe that herbs and spices—or more precisely, the lack of them—are also an important piece of the dietary puzzle. “When Indians eat more Westernized foods, they’re getting much fewer spices than their traditional diet contains,” he explains. “They lose the protection those spices are conveying.”
While science has yet to show that any spice cures disease, there’s compelling evidence that several may help manage some chronic conditions (though it’s always smart to talk with your doctor). And of course, seasoning your dishes with spices allows you to use less of other ingredients linked with health problems, such as salt, added sugars and sources of saturated fat. What’s not to love? Here in our special feature, My Well-Being Magazine has gathered eight of the healthiest spices and herbs enjoyed around the world.
This weeks healthy spice. Sage
Pairs well with: Squashes; parsley; rosemary; thyme; walnuts
May help: Preserve memory, soothe sore throats.
Recipe to try: Sweet Potato & Turnip Mash with Sage Butter and More Sage Recipes
Today’s herbalists recommend sipping sage tea for upset stomachs and sore throats; one study found that spraying sore throats with a sage solution gave effective pain relief. And whoever gave the herb the wisdom-connoting “sage” moniker may have been onto something: preliminary research suggests the herb may improve some symptoms of early Alzheimer’s disease by preventing a key enzyme from destroying acetylcholine, a brain chemical involved in memory and learning. In another study, college students who took sage extracts in capsule form performed significantly better on memory tests, and their moods improved.