Food Matters: The Flavor of Health

The Heart Healthy Power of Herbs and Spices
by Rob Leighton

As a Natural Solutions reader, you may already know the golden rule for a healthy diet: eat a wide variety of vegetables, fruit, and grains (as close to nature as possible) and enjoy whatever other foods you like—just not too much (and if it is highly processed, eat even less).

Everything else is commentary! Follow this golden rule and you can sharply lower your risks for heart disease or stroke. Concerned about memory loss or maintaining your brain power as you age? Studies continue to show that following this golden rule to healthy eating is powerfully supportive. Worried about cancer? The golden rule of eating reduces your risks for many cancers.

Whether a Mediterranean diet, the China Study diet, the Alkalizing diet, the DASH diet, the new Weight Watcher’s program, or Dr. Ornish’s “Spectrum Diet” for preventing and reversing heart disease, the golden rule of healthy eating serves as the foundation.

What is an essential element to their success? All these diets are rich in antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory micronutrients.

Blending Spices and Herbs for Antioxidant Power

Antioxidants are the vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients found mostly in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Better-known antioxidants include vitamins A, C, and E, as well as the mineral selenium. Other antioxidants are carotenoids like beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene which are responsible for adding color to many fruits and vegetables. Beta-carotene is the orange in carrots and pumpkins. Lutein is abundant in leafy green vegetables. Lycopene is the red in tomatoes. Then there are flavonoids found in green tea, chocolate, grapes, berries, and cinnamon—plus the phenols found in citrus fruit, the sulfides in garlic and onions, and the thiols in broccoli and cabbage.

So what do antioxidants do? There is a lot of chemistry here, but for now understand that as a natural byproduct of using oxygen in our bodies, compounds are created that damage our cells and contribute to heart disease, cancer, and even aging itself. Antioxidants support the body’s ability to neutralize these harmful compounds.

Modern life, however, undermines the control process. Smoking and pollution as well as processed foods, deep-fried foods, and flame-broiled meats increase these harmful compounds. We also are eating fewer foods that deliver high antioxidant levels.

Where can you find the most potent sources of antioxidants? Consider this: one teaspoon of certain herbs and spices can deliver five times more antioxidant capacity than in a cup of berries, a glass of red wine, or a couple ounces of dark chocolate. Spices and herbs are Mother Nature’s most powerful antioxidants!

What is even better is that spices and herbs are easily blended. These blends then deliver multiple sources of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients that work together to support your body’s natural control mechanisms. Consider Indian curries, Chinese 5-spice blend, North African Ras el hanout, Arabic Zahtar, and the classic herb blends of Greek, Italian, and French cuisines!

Best of all, spices and herbs can make health foods more delicious and delicious foods healthier. So start finding new ways to bring herbs and spices into your diet at every meal: nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove in your morning cereal; oregano, rosemary, tarragon, and thyme with your lunch salad; cumin, pepper, paprika, and ginger with your dinnertime vegetables. And remember to be brave with your herbs and spices. A sprinkle here and there will not do much for either health or taste. Use a teaspoon or tablespoon to add an impact of flavor to your cooking.


Herbs/Spices Antioxidant ORAC levels in 10g

Basil-Dried 6100

Cinnamon 13140

Clove 29028

Cumin 5030

Garlic Powder 665

Ginger 3900

Mustard-Dry 2925

Nutmeg 6964

Oregano 17500

Paprika 2193

Parsley-Dried 7367

Pepper (Black) 7367

Pepper (Hot) 1967

Rosemary 16528

Thyme 15738

Turmeric 12700


Fruits/Veggies Antioxidant ORAC levels in 50g

Apples 1350

Asparagus 820

Blackberry 2950

Blueberry 2350

Broccoli Cooked 1080

Cabbage Red Raw 1245

Cabbage Red Cooked 1575

Cherries 1850

Cranberries 4545

Grapes-Red 920

Lettuce-Romaine 510

Oranges 1050

Peaches 960

Pears 1000

Prune 4030

Raspberries 2535


Beans/Nuts Antioxidant ORAC levels in 50g

Black Beans 4245

Kidney Beans 4250

Lentils 3650

Navy Beans 805

Split Peas 370

Almonds 2250

Hazelnuts 4850

Pecans 9000

Peanuts 1600

Pistachios 4000

Walnuts 6525


Rob Leighton is author of three acclaimed books on heart health: The Kardea Gourmet: Smart & Delicious Eating for a Healthy Heart written with Dr. Richard Collins, a leading preventive cardiologist; Mediterranean Spice Blends: The Forgotten Ingredient of a Heart Healthy Diet; and Top Nutrients for a Healthy Heart.