I work hard to educate my patients and the public on the many paths to improving their nutrition and reducing their risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and obesity. Some people are ready for the whole package of lifestyle change, but others are looking for a single small step they can take. One of the very first ones I suggest is to view the spice rack as a pharmacy, or better yet, farmacy, which can lead quickly to improved nutrition and health.

One of the most interesting research papers I have ever read was a recent analysis of over 3,000 foods in terms of their antioxidant levels. The antioxidant values in spices are listed, and there are real powerhouses of health that can be bought for a few dollars. Some of the most potent spices listed include cloves, allspice, mint, and cinnamon. I try to get my patients to buy three spices bottles, preferably organic. If they have access to fresh herbs and spices from their gardens or markets, all the better. Here is what you will find me using most frequently in my own kitchen.

1. Apple Pie Spice

In my home, this bottle gets used in smoothies, on cereals, in coffee, and on fruit. This powerhouse mix usually has cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and nutmeg. By sprinkling this tasty and sugar-free mix on your food and drink you can boost the antioxidant level of meals tremendously.

Antioxidants work to reverse the “rusting” and aging effects of stress and toxins on your arteries and other organs. In addition to cloves, cinnamon helps balance your blood sugar and decreases bad cholesterol, allspice lowers blood pressure and may relieve menopause symptoms, and nutmeg may prevent wrinkles, lower cholesterol, treat depression, and improve memory.

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2. Italian Seasoning Mix

The ingredients of my bottle of these green flakes resemble a Simon and Garfunkel tune: oregano, marjoram, thyme, basil, rosemary, and sage. In the same study that ranked cloves at the top of the herb and spice antioxidant list, all the components of the Italian mix fared well in antioxidant activity.

Oregano contains carvacrol and thymol which have antibacterial and anti-viral properties. This herb may calm the stomach, prevent food poisoning, and treat our livers.

Marjoram has the same two active components of oregano and a third, ursolic acid, that act to slow the rate of Alzheimer’s disease, thin the blood to prevent heart attacks, and aid digestion. Thyme has anti-inflammatory properties and shows activity that is anti-aging and may protect DNA from transforming to cancer growth. It may also prevent the clotting of blood. Basil may act as an “adaptogen” making it easier to cope with stress.

Rosemary has been known since the time of Shakespeare to improve memory and when it’s added to grilled foods it may lessen the production of chemicals that favor aging and cancer. Finally, sage may slow the buildup of plaque in arteries and has been used for centuries to improve memory.

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3. Indian Seasoning Mix

There are many blends of this potent Indian mix but the bottle in my kitchen contains coriander, cumin, turmeric, chili pepper, ginger, cardamom, mustard, cloves, nutmeg, black pepper, and saffron. Turmeric is a yellow spice that has been considered a healer in Indian cooking for ages. It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties due to its main chemical, curcumin. There are now many research studies in animals and humans showing health benefits for turmeric and curcumin in tens of medical illnesses, ranging from heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer.

My advice to protect your health? Take the simple step of throwing out the oldy moldy spice bottles in your kitchen and buy some new bottles with organic labels. Add spices to your meals, make them colorful and zesty, and take advantage of the bounty of natural healing compounds, the original pharmacy.

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