DiscoverHealth

spices on a cutting board

Spice up your life

Do you need to spice up your life?

I recently talked with the senior wellness group at Spartanburg Medical Center – Mary Black Campus about the important health benefits of spices.

Spices can help seniors … but they’re great for all ages, too. Here are a few tips I shared with that group.

Herbs and spices

Do you know the difference between an herb and a spice? We often refer to them together as "herbs and spices," but herbs are the leaves of shrubs while spices may come from the bark, root, seed, fruit, or bud of a plant.

Beware of sodium!

Most of us are aware that blends such as steakhouse or Cajun seasoning may have high amounts of sodium, but be sure to check even lemon pepper or chili powder. Scan the ingredient list to check for either salt or sodium.

The flavor fades

Though herbs and spices never technically spoil, their taste and health benefits can fade away. If you can't smell the herb or spice, then it has lost the oils that contain the anti-inflammatory compounds and vitamins.

Pinch or rub a few dried leaves of the herb between your fingers to smell or break larger spices such as a cinnamon stick in half. 

Our scent is also highly tied to our taste, so if you are unable to smell the herb or spice, it will not flavor your food. If that's the case, it's time for a new jar.

Keep herbs fresh

To extend the shelf life of fresh herbs like parsley and cilantro, fill a cup or jar partially with water, and stick the ends of the herb into the jar. Place the produce bag back around the jar and then refrigerate. The extra water will help keep the herbs fresh for weeks instead of days!

Also, make sure to purchase truly fresh herbs to begin with. Pinch the ends of one of the leaves and give it a sniff. You should inhale a wonderfully fragrant scent! Remember, no scent means no taste and no health benefits.

Health benefits

Many herbs and spices have health benefits ranging from binding to cancer-causing compounds, keeping our arteries flexible and open, preventing inflammation, improving circulation, or better blood sugar management.

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Kerri Stewart, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian with Spartanburg Medical Center and the Joe R. Utley Heart Resource Center.