There are a few additions to your spice cabinet that offer the greatest influence on a healthy cardiovascular system. Powerful enough to be concentrated and sold as nutritional supplements, these spices and herbs not only deliver flavor, but also a myriad of health benefits. A meal can easily transition from mundane to magical, thanks to a few noble spices and herbs.
A study now underway at Laval University, Canada, tests the effect of 5 different spices on endothelial function. Endothelium tissue lines organs and cavities, including the heart. Combined with previous studies from the USDA, documented improvements in blood lipid profiles and antioxidant potential have been made with the herbs and spices listed below.
Using fresh and dried spices and herbs to flavor and season meals is a great way to reduce your reliance on food additives too. Food additives also include refined salt and sugar, as found in bottled sauces and pre-packaged meal kits.
Reducing artificial and refined food additives will help improve your body’s resilience to disease by decreasing inflammation, regulating blood pressure and blood sugar levels, and decreasing your toxic load. However, a golden rule of improving any diet should be that when one aspect is reduced or removed from the diet, something else (more health promoting) can, and should be, added in its place. This is in order to avoid deprivation and relapse. Spices and herbs are a great way to practice this replacement habit as you remove packaged products and prepared foods from your pantry.
Empirical science now supports of what Herbologists and ancient healers (such as Chinese and Auyervedic medicine practitioners) have long advocated: allowing the energetic properties of natural plants to promote vitality. In Traditional Chinese Medicine’s “Five Element” theory, the heart and lungs are linked with the bitter and pungent flavors, both of which are aligned with the sense organs of the tongue and nose. The cardiovascular system is therefore historically, and traditionally, in harmony with a well-seasoned diet!
The antioxidant potential of the herbs and spices profiled here, also play an important role in preventing or limiting the oxidation of LDL Cholesterol. Oxidized LDL Cholesterol, combined with dietary toxins can disrupt normal cellular function. Cellular mutations are linked with plaque accumulation, as a rupture in an arterial wall caused by an abnormal growth or deposit triggers an influx of cholesterol to the affected area. Cholesterol is one component found in plaque, along with cellular wastes, fat and calcium. Boost your antioxidants, assist with balanced blood sugar (benefiting your triglyceride profile) and lower your blood pressure with the following heart healthy herbs and spices.
The High Performers:
- Oregano: Through a USDA study, gram for gram, Oregano has the highest antioxidant activity of 27 tested herbs. Oregano is also beneficial as a digestive aid. If you buy fresh oregano but don’t use it fast enough, snip off the tips (like you would fresh flowers) and store the stalks upright in a glass of shallow water.
- Peppercorns: High in antioxidants. Peppercorns are diuretic (promoting urination) and diaphoretic (promoting sweating). Therefore they can assist in flushing toxins from our bodies. Peppercorns can also stimulate the breakdown of fat cells.
- Rosemary: Stimulates the immune system. May prevent damage to blood vessels and is a great antioxidant for LDL cholesterol specifically. Rosemary has also been shown to improve respiratory ailments by reducing histamine-induced constriction. A great herb to have on hand in patio or window pots.
- Ginger: Boosts circulation, hinders blood clotting, and may help lower LDL cholesterol levels.
- Cinnamon: The potent essential oils found in cinnamon are found to be anti clotting. Cinnamon is also great for regulating blood sugar, boosting metabolism and harmonizing the stomach. Herbalists also believe in cinnamon’s ability to help the body regulate the effects of stress and anxiety.
- Turmeric: Neutralizes free radicals. The compound “curcumin” that gives turmeric it’s intense color, has been demonstrated to have a cholesterol lowering property. Try adding Turmeric to your mustards, to double the nutritional potency.
- Garlic: Disrupts the metabolism of irregular cells. Helpful in lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. Benefits are likely due to garlic’s high selenium content, and a sulphur containing amino acid called “allin”. Use with parsley to counteract the residual breath effects!
- Mustard: Boosts respiratory capacity by reducing mucous. Has anti-inflammatory properties, and is high in selenium, a key antioxidant.
- Cayenne: Much like mustard, reduces mucous to benefit respiratory function. Boosts circulation, and is diaphoretic (which promotes detoxification through sweating). If you’re prone to heart burn, temper the effect with a cooling herb such as dill, and a cooling vegetable such as cucumber (all of which would be great in a homemade salsa).
- Basil, Dill, Parsley & Cilantro/Corriander (the leafy greens): Included primarily because they’ll help increase your chlorophyll and magnesium intake, all four make great, fresh garnishes to just about any dish. Freshen your breath and boost your vitamin A and C levels (with parsley especially). Aim to have one of these fresh herbs on hand each week, and see how it inspires your meals.
Don’t be afraid of blended spice mixes either. Look for spice blends that contain no added salt (or sea salt only). You can also play around and make up some of your own custom creations. Save your old shaker bottles for blending new creations in. A few starter suggestions include:
Mayan Chilli Chocolate: Dark cocoa powder, chilli, and cayenne. Blends well in a vegetarian slow cooked chilli. Served with rosemary scones and a yogurt dip.
Bengali Spice: ground mustard seeds, cumin and fennel. Best served with a lentil and fish stew.
Za’atar: A middle eastern blend with sesame seeds, thyme, oregano, basil and marjoram. Great mixed in a high quality, cold pressed oil such as macadamia, olive or avocado, served with fresh sourdough bread for dipping.
Let the aromas of a good quality spice inspire your senses and your palate. Your heart thanks you!