Orlando, Fla. (Ivanhoe Broadcast News) -- When you think of foods that contain antioxidants, fruits, vegetables, or maybe even whole-grains probably come to mind -- but there's one food group you likely haven't heard about yet. Packing some spice into your life may be just what the doctor ordered.
Herbs and spices pop up everywhere from garden centers to the candy aisle ... But they can do more than add zip to your dish.
"Practically every herb and spice that's been studied has some health benefit," says Marcia Herrin, R.D.
This Dartmouth Medical School nutritionist says herbs and spices are loaded with antioxidants, those chemicals that keep diseases in check. But we may not be getting those benefits as much as we could. Herrin says Americans don't use many herbs and spices compared to the rest of the world. In India, curry is part of the staple diet. There, rates of Alzheimer's disease are the lowest in the world.
UCLA researcher and professor of medicine Sally Frautschy, Ph.D., is studying curcumin, which is found in curry. "We accidentally found out that it blocks every single step in Alzheimer's pathogenesis," she tells Ivanhoe. She says it kills nearly every cancer cell in the lab.
But if curry isn't your spice of choice, don't worry. "There are 20 different herbs and spices, at least, that have research behind them as having health benefits," Dr. Herrin says. Oregano leads the pack; it has 42-times more antioxidant activity than apples, 12-times more than oranges, and four-times more than blueberries. Dill, sage, rosemary and ginger also rank high. "I'm guessing we're going to end up with some really powerful medicines out of this," Dr. Herrin says.
You don't have to be a chef to reap the benefits. Just throwing a few herbs on soup or chicken is a good start. Researchers say many of these herbs are only absorbed by the body when they're eaten with fat, so cooking with oil will help release the anti-oxidants. Taking herbs and spices as a supplement in pill form won't do much for you because supplements are usually taken with water, your body can't absorb them.
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