Spices are a rich source of polyphenols, which means we should all be eating more of them. Polyphenols are powerful anti-oxidants that neutralize the free radicals formed by constant sun exposure and anti-microbial agents that are plants’ primary defense mechanism against microbiological attack. By ingesting foods that contain high levels of polyphenols, humans boost their immune systems, reduce cellular inflammation, and maintain an optimal balance between the good and bad microbes that live in our digestive tracts.
Adding more spices to your diet is one way to increase the number of polyphenols entering your body on a regular basis, although, as Dr. Barry Sears explains in The Mediterranean Zone, you need to have continual daily intake in order to benefit in the long term, since polyphenols are fully metabolized within 24 hours of being taken into the body.
Here is a list of the top 5 spices that rank highest in terms of polyphenol content, making them the ones that you should try hardest to incorporate into your diet. ORAC stands for oxygen radical absorption capacity, which estimates the spice’s anti-oxidant ability. These values come from The Mediterranean Zone.
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Oregano, dried — 175,295 ORAC/100 grams
Oregano is synonymous with Italian foods, which make pizza and pasta sauces the obvious choice for how to use it. But oregano is also delicious stirred into scrambled eggs, vegetable soups, salad dressings, and sprinkled over sautéed vegetables.
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Rosemary, dried — 165,280 ORAC/100 grams
Rosemary is delicious with oven-roasted root vegetables, as part of meat rubs and marinades, or sprinkled over fish. Use it to flavour lemonade, infuse olive oil, and make herbal tea.
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Thyme, dried — 157,380 ORAC/100 grams
Another popular Mediterranean spice, thyme is extremely versatile and can be used in many of the same ways as oregano. Add it to salad dressings, soups, stews, oven roasts or braises, all egg-based dishes, garlic bread, pasta sauce, etc.
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Turmeric, ground — 127,068 ORAC/100 grams
Turmeric is most commonly associated with Indian cooking, which is one of the best ways to use it. Make curries out of whatever ingredients you’ve got – vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, or lentils – and add a generous spoonful of turmeric, along with other curry spices such as cumin, ground coriander, ginger, and garlic. Add turmeric to soups, stews, and rice pilaf; it will add a vibrant yellow colour. It’s also good in mustard, relishes, chutneys, and pickles.
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Sage, ground — 119,929 ORAC/100 grams
The taste of sage conjures up memories of Thanksgiving for many, but it’s a spice that should be enjoyed at other times of the year, too. Similar to rosemary, it’s excellent with roasted vegetables, meat, and fish. Add a pinch to pasta dishes, particularly cream sauces, and any soups or stews. Sage complements many winter vegetables, such as butternut squash, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, and rutabaga.
Katharine Martinko, TreeHugger.
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