Herbs and Spices Can Rescue Bland Food

By Eli Follick

Herbs and spices began to speckle my plate when my doctor discovered I had elevated blood pressure and high sugar readings. Among other treatments, he advised me to reduce my sodium intake. While the idea of food without salt was difficult to digest, the prospect of improving my health meant a lot to me. So, I went hunting for alternatives.

Enter herbs and spices. Not only did I discover that they significantly enhance food’s taste and flavor, reducing the need for salt, but my research also found that many common herbs and spices contribute to improved health. Some of their benefits include a possible role in conferring protection against cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases, some cancers, and Type 2 diabetes, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The center also says that herbs and spices have antibacterial and antiviral properties, many containing more disease-fighting antioxidants than fruits and vegetables. Some are also high in B vitamins and trace minerals.

For your convenience, here is a breakdown of the health benefits of a few easily accessible herbs and spices that you can use to enhance just about every dish you make – from soups, to stews, to desserts.

With the highest antioxidant value of any spice, cinnamon helps fight inflammation and has been shown to lower cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. The NCCIH says that it can lower fasting blood sugar in diabetes patients by 10 percent 25 percent. The most common uses of cinnamon are in cookies, muffins, and desserts. I also enjoy a shake or two of it in my morning coffee.


Basil, too, has anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties, even helping to prevent osteoarthritis, according to the NCCIH. It has been used in digestive disorders and is being studied for possible use against cancer.  Basil can be added to practically anything. For example, I use it when I fry eggs and make omelets. Fresh basil is always best, but dried is OK, too. It can be used with grilled vegetables, soups, most meat dishes, and salads.


Turmeric contains curcumin, which may be a cancer-fighting compound, according to the NCCIH. It may also help reduce inflammation and improve joint health. Using it with a couple of sprinkles of black pepper helps the body extract all of turmeric’s useful ingredients. For a spark of flavor, add it to egg dishes, soups, meat dishes, sauces, and baked foods. I particularly like to use it when I make a vegetable stew.


Garlic has been used for its medicinal properties for centuries. Most of these health effects are due to the compound called allicin, which is also responsible for garlic’s distinct smell. Garlic may benefit heart health and help to reduce cholesterol. There is some evidence, according to the NIH, that it helps to reduce blood pressure. Garlic is one of my favorite seasonings. I have used both fresh cloves and powdered garlic in stews, frittatas, and vegetable dishes. I make one dish by sauteing green cabbage and onions and adding garlic for some wonderful flavor. It saves me from using any salt.

These are just a few of the herbs I now regularly keep in my four-level spice cabinet. Others you might consider are sage, thyme, peppermint, rosemary, ginger, paprika, cayenne pepper, and cumin. Each of these and many other herbs and spices can play a role in helping you on your journey to health. As a bonus, you can enjoy the flavors, the aromas, and the interesting differences a sprinkle or two can add to your dishes.

Remember that it’s important to consult with your health care provider before making any changes in your food selections and diet.

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