“Superfoods” are all the rage right now, packed with powerful plant nutrients crucial for health and longevity. These amazing superfoods are head and shoulders above the rest in terms of their therapeutic benefit to your health, helping improve heart health, stabilize blood sugar, boost brain function, reduce inflammation and increase libido.
The so-called superfoods receiving most of the media attention are exotic fruits like goji and acai berries — but do they really give you the most bang for your buck? Are they really worth the high price tags in health food stores? Ironically, some of the most powerful superfoods in the world might already be in your kitchen or growing in your garden, and they can be easily incorporated into many of your meals!
Herbs often don’t get the praise they deserve, but they truly are nature’s superfoods. Nutrient-dense “super herbs” have all the amazing benefits of the more celebrated superfoods, while being virtually calorie-free. Plus, herbs and spices provide fantastic flavors and amazing aromas to make your Paleo recipes even more delicious and nutritious!
Whether you are looking to boost brain function, accelerate healing from exercise, maintain youthful skin, support anti-aging or improve poor health, be sure to include a daily dose of my top five must-eat super herbs. I highly recommend them for their profound health benefits and incredible taste.
Cinnamon is one of the oldest spices in the world, having been used in Chinese medicine since 2700 BC. It was once so highly regarded that it was considered more precious than gold! In health terms, cinnamon definitely deserves “gold-star status” for its ability to improve blood sugar levels.
The medical journal Diabetes Care showed that a 1g dose (1 teaspoon) of cinnamon daily was enough to decrease fasting glucose by a whopping 18-29%. (1) This is a great way to improve blood sugar levels and support healthy weight loss.
Cinnamon also helps lower bad LDL cholesterol by 7-27% and dangerous triglycerides (blood fats) by 23-30%. Try adding a pinch into your water for a fantastic cinnamon slurry, in your favorite barbecue dry rub, or on a dessert to help offset the blood sugar spike!
Rosemary is one of my favorite herbs because it’s so versatile and has so many amazing health properties. As well as reducing inflammation via COX-2 inhibition, just like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen, and preventing colds and flu, new research is highlighting rosemary’s potential ability to improve cognitive health and memory.
If we travel back a couple thousand years, it seems the Romans were already well aware of these brain-boosting benefits. The classic Roman crowns worn by philosophers and intellectuals were made of rosemary because it was believed it helped decision-making and supported deep thought.
Fast forward a couple thousand years, and the latest research shows us that one active compound in rosemary — rosmarinic acid – acts on the hippocampus and frontal cortex of the brain to potentially improve long-term memory. (2) Take advantage of rosemary’s brain-boosting effects by using generous servings with roasted meats – lamb, chicken, turkey – or even adding a sprig or two to your morning green tea to boost brain function!
Like rosemary, ginger is an absolute must to add to virtually ALL your cooking because it enhances your health in so many different ways. It contains key flavonoids called gingerols that exert tremendous anti-inflammatory effects via inhibition of the COX-2 enzyme (again, just like NSAIDs.) (3)
New research shows that ginger can significantly reduce inflammatory markers after only 7 days of consumption. (4) Ginger is also loaded with zinc, a common deficiency seen in clinical practice in the general population and particularly in athletes. Zinc is crucial for the production of testosterone, which triggers lean muscle growth, better metabolism and enhances libido.
Finally, this super herb helps to support optimal stomach acidity, calms nausea and helps fight off bacteria and viruses. Include ginger daily as a tea, when juicing, or add it into your cooking with stir-fries or baked meats.
4. Cayenne Pepper
A staple of Latin American cuisine, hot peppers can do more for you than just spice up your chili! Capsaicins are members of the nightshade family of plants and include the wonderful spice cayenne pepper. Cayenne pepper is beneficial for improving metabolism and clearing out mucus accumulation from colds and flu. It also has unique anti-inflammatory properties.
It doesn’t function like COX-2 inhibitors rosemary and ginger, or NSAIDs like ibuprofen, but rather by interacting with a specific receptor in your brain called TRPV (transient-receptor-potential vallinoid…now that’s a mouthful!). (5) To reap the anti-inflammatory benefits, simply add cayenne on top of your meals, just like you would do with black pepper, or mix it into a hot tea to provide a nice metabolic and anti-inflammatory boost!
Garlic is a staple of most recipes and likely already in your kitchen, but the reason you should eat it daily isn’t simply because it tastes great. Garlic helps to improve wellness in so many areas, including supporting a healthy heart, keeping joints strong, and fighting off colds and flu.
Garlic is part of the allium family of plants, and its active ingredient allicin gives garlic its potent ability to reduce blood pressure and the risk of heart attack and stroke (6). Garlic also contains sulfur compounds, precursors to key nutrients like MSM (methyl-sulfonyl-methane) to maintain healthy joints after exercise and prevent achy joints the next day.
Whether you’re an athlete or just hoping to live pain-free, adding more garlic to your food is an absolute must for long-term health. Garlic is also a potent weapon for preventing the onset of colds and flu, which will derail your performance in the gym or at work like nothing else. Add crushed garlic to sauces, chopped garlic to stir-fries, or simply bake the entire bulbs with your root veggies to get your daily dose.
So now that you know just how powerful these herbs are, forget those pre-made sugary and processed sauces and get back to nature and a more ancestral way of making your food taste great. The herbs and spices regularly found in your kitchen cupboard or local grocery store may not feature in the headlines, but ramp up your intake of garlic, cinnamon, rosemary, ginger and cayenne, and you’ll experience fantastic benefits!
Supplement forms of these herbs can also be used to help correct significant areas of dysfunction or imbalance. All of these herbs can exert their maximum effects if you consume them raw, so don’t forget to sprinkle them on your meals and experiment with them in your drinks, as well as using them regularly in your cooking.
(This article originally appeared @Paleohacks.com)
Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS