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9 Ways to Boost Your Immune System

It's time to replace your medicine cabinet with your spice rack, according to 16 research papers published in Nutrition Today summarizing a Science Summit held by the McCormick Science institute and the American Society for Nutrition in Washington, DC.

It's time to replace your medicine cabinet with your spice rack. Photo credit: Thinkstock

They named four major areas where herbs and spices can impact your health:

1. Spicing Up "Bland" Health Food So You Keep Eating Healthy

Health food has a reputation for being rather boring since it's not loaded up with fat and sugar (two things that taste really good). However, research from the University of Colorado found that adding spices to healthy dishes could make them just as appealing as full-fat versions. This means that "diet" food can be incorporated into a long-term plan for healthy eating.

2. Flavoring Food So You Can Swap Out the Salt

We turn to salt when our food doesn't have enough taste. Unfortunately, for people with high blood pressure on a low-sodium diet the menu can start looking pretty tasteless. Fortunately, research from Johns Hopkins found that simply adding spices led people to eat 966 milligrams of sodium per day less than those who didn't.

3. Helping You Feel Fuller, Longer

Not only does food seasoned with herbs and spices taste better, it also makes you feel fuller and boosts metabolism. Researchers from Maastricht University in the Netherlands found that adding red pepper helped increase satiety, and if you're full, you're less likely to reach for an unhealthy snack later in the day.

4. Reducing Heart Disease Risk Factors

While the healthy-eating strategies above can help you lose weight (which is protective against heart disease), the spices themselves may also have heart-healthy benefits. A review of research from The Pennsylvania State University found that adding spices to even a high-fat meal resulted in lower post-meal insulin and triglyceride levels.

Not sure which herbs to try to get the most health benefits? Elson Haas, MD, and Sondra Barrett, PhD, authors of Ultimate Immunity, share their favorite spices.

Cayenne Pepper

Haas and Barrett explain that cayenne gets its kick from the compound capsaicin. Not only does capsaicin turn up the heat, but it also can inhibit pain due to inflammation. Plus, this spice is a great source of antioxidants.

Cinnamon

Sure, cinnamon flavors every fall treat, but it can also help you fight off those fall colds as an immune stimulator. Plus, it prevents blood platelet clumping, inhibits inflammatory substances, and can regulate blood sugar.

Garlic

Vampires and colds beware—we're armed with garlic. Haas and Barrett point out that this cooking staple is antiseptic, contains antioxidants, and has been shown to help fight a cold, due to the effects of the compound allicin.

Ginger

While ginger is most famous for its ability to quell nausea, Haas and Barrett explain ginger also decreases inflammation, fights bacteria and fungi, and improves circulation.

Licorice

Unfortunately, we don't mean the candy. Licorice root, however, has the ability to lessen the inflammation response, especially in the stomach. (The authors do caution that, if taken in large amounts, it can raise blood pressure).

Oregano

The next time you make some homemade pasta sauce, be liberal with the oregano. Haas and Barrett point out that oregano has more antioxidants than apples, oranges or blueberries. Plus, it can help treat infections from fungi, bacteria or parasites.

Rosemary

Rosemary is a beautifully scented herb that reduces asthma and improves digestion and circulation. Plus, studies have shown that rosemary is protective against oxidative damage.

Thyme

With similar compounds as oregano, thyme is also a great way to fight off illnesses and, as an antioxidant, it protects your DNA from oxidative damage.

Turmeric

Turmeric gets its bright yellow color and its health benefits form curcumin. This compound is especially effective at protecting the liver, and it may even delay Alzheimer's disease.

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