Even if you’re not a nutrition nut, chances are you probably have heard of antioxidants. You may even be aware that antioxidants are found in foods like berries and spinach and can help prevent chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.
But, did you know that herbs and spices contain antioxidants? 1/2 teaspoon of some herbs and spices has as many antioxidants as 1/4 cup or more of certain fruits and vegetables!
Before we get too far into antioxidant levels in herbs and spices, let’s talk about what an antioxidant actually is. Antioxidants are nutrients and enzymes that are capable of stopping and reversing the harmful effects of oxidation in your body (source ). Too much science in that sentence? Let’s break it down.
Nutrients are vitamins and minerals, and enzymes are proteins that help chemical reactions in the body. Oxidation is a normal metabolic process that occurs in animal tissue and results from the oxygen we breathe as well as from digestion (source). An example of oxidation (not in your body) is rusting iron. While oxidation is normal, it unfortunately is corrosive and produces damaging free radicals. Free radicals are, “electronically unstable atoms or molecules capable of stripping electrons from any other molecules they meet in an effort to achieve stability” (source). In other words, free radicals cause damage to cells and DNA.
Although this is a normal process, it doesn’t mean your body is doomed to free radical damage. Enzymes are capable of neutralizing the dangerous reactive forms of oxygen, repair mechanisms fix the oxidative damage, and complex stress responses result in cell “suicide” if there is too much damage. Antioxidants in the form of food can donate an electron to the free radicals (source).
Some names of antioxidants you may recognize are (source)
- Vitamin C (other name- ascorbic acid)
- Vitamin E (other name- tocopherols)
- Beta-carotene (other names- carotenes, lycopene)
- Polyphenol antioxidants (other names- resveratrol, flavonoids)
It may surprise you that herbs and spices contain such high antioxidant levels, but spices and herbs are botanically classified as fruits and vegetables. Spices are parts of the plant that aren’t the leaf, including the bud, bark, root, berry, aromatic seed, or flower. Herbs can be defined as the leaf of the plant (source).
“Super Spices” is a term from McCormick and includes spices that make up the greatest potential to support health. The Super Spices include
- Black pepper- 1 tsp has as many antioxidants as 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
- Chili powder- 1 tsp has about as many antioxidants as 1/2 cup chopped broccoli
- Cinnamon (ground)- 1/2 tsp has as many antioxidants as 1/4 cup blueberries
- Cloves (ground)- 1/2 tsp has more antioxidants than 1/2 cup raspberries
- Cumin (seed)- 1 tsp has more antioxidants than 1 oz. almonds
- Garlic powder- 1/2 tsp has as many antioxidants as 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
- Ginger (ground)- 1 tsp has more antioxidants than 1 cup fresh spinach
- Oregano leaves- 1/2 tsp has as many antioxidants as 3 cups fresh spinach
- Rosemary- 1/2 tsp has more antioxidants than 1/2 cup cubed watermelon
- Thyme- 1/2 tsp has almost as many antioxidants as 1/2 cup chopped cantaloupe
- Turmeric (ground)- 1/2 tsp has more antioxidants than 1/2 cup chopped asparagus
For those looking to lose weight, spices not only flavor food and provide high levels of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, but they are also calorie free, fat free, and sugar free!
For more information about the health benefits of spices, visit Spices for Health by McCormick.