5 Herbs and Spices to Add to Your Rotation for Longevity and Good Gut Health
Even with longer life spans and improved technology keeping us healthier for longer, many of us still look for those extra boosters we can add to our routine to help us live longer lives. From cosmetics to superfoods and supplements, we’ve all thought about it and maybe even tried a few.
While we don’t know if there is a special secret to living as long as possible, we do know that our longevity is impacted by the health of our bodies. The normal processes of oxidative stress and inflammation lead to our decline in health as we get older, and while these are inevitable, the foods that we eat can play a significant role in the quality of life and overall health as we age.
The good news is that we don’t always have to buy into expensive supplements when disease-fighting, anti-ageing foods might be hidden in your pantry already. Here, we reveal the top five herbs and spices to keep on rotation to help improve your longevity and overall health. The best part? They’re inexpensive ingredients you probably already have in your pantry.
5 Herbs and Spices for Longevity and Good Gut Health
Turmeric has been trending over the last few years, but has been used in India for thousands of years as a medicinal herb. It’s the spice that gives curry its yellow colour.
The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, which is a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants help the body to fight free radicals that can cause damage to cells and contribute to ageing in the body. Curcumin is a natural anti-inflammatory compound that may help to keep the immune system in check and play a role in preventing and treating certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, metabolic conditions, neurological disease and skin diseases.
Curcumin in turmeric has also been shown to benefit brain health. In a small double-blind 2018 study, participants with mild memory problems showed improved memory and attention after 18 months of daily curcumin supplements. Another study found that curcumin intake helped to make DHA more available in the brain. DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that is critical for brain health, with low levels associated with cognitive decline and the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Curcumin in turmeric is poorly absorbed in the body, however, black pepper and healthy fats can help to improve absorption. Try cooking curries at home with fresh turmeric and pepper, or make your own turmeric root lattes. If you’re considering a supplement, check with your healthcare team first to ensure there are no contraindications with other medications.
If your mum made you drink ginger tea growing up whenever you were sick, turns out there was science behind her remedy. Ginger is a well-researched spice that has many benefits for our bodies. Gingerol, the active compound in ginger, has been found to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, and may also have anti-cancer properties. Inflammation is a natural part of the body’s immune response to infection and injury, but excess inflammation is associated with chronic diseases such as diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and cardiovascular disease, as well as contributing to oxidative stress in the body that can impact the signs of ageing.
Ginger’s anti-inflammatory effects are particularly helpful for our immune health through the cold and flu season. Try adding fresh ginger to your cooking like in stir-fries, soups and curries, or in a hot cup of tea.
Capsaicin is a chemical compound found in spicy foods like jalapeños, cayenne and other chillies. In a 2015 observational study from China, people who ate more spicy foods were less likely to die of cancer, heart disease and respiratory diseases, compared to people who rarely ate those foods, and this was linked to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect of capsaicin.
Not a big fan of heat? Try incorporating more chilli into your cooking slowly so you can build up a tolerance.
Cinnamon is a commonly used spice in cooking that has been found to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory benefits. Cinnamon intake may potentially help to regulate blood sugar levels in those with type 2 diabetes (however, it shouldn’t replace medication) and contains antioxidants that help to protect the body from cell damage. Cinnamon also contains polyphenols, a plant compound that could contribute to gut health.
The great thing about cinnamon is its versatility – use cinnamon in baking, add it to yoghurt, porridge, smoothies or even in savoury dishes to add complexity to flavours.
Oregano is a herb used extensively in the Mediterranean Diet, known as one of the world’s healthiest diets. This herb is rich in antioxidants that can prevent oxidative damage caused by free radicals, and also has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects.
What’s more, oregano has been found to benefit gut health. Participants in a small study who had gut symptoms as a result of a parasite were given oregano oil for six weeks. At the end of the trial, participants had reduced gut symptoms and tiredness. Other small studies have linked oregano with protecting the gut wall lining, which in turn helps to manage gut health and inflammation.
Oregano also contains polyphenols, a plant compound that goes through our small intestine undigested, and lands in the large intestine. The gut microbes then transform them into beneficial chemicals linked with cancer prevention and better heart and mental health. The intake of oregano has also been linked to promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut which in turn can have positive effects on overall health. Oregano is a versatile herb; add dried or fresh oregano or oregano oil to pizza and pasta dishes, into salads, soups, stews or season your meat dishes with it.
The bottom line is that most herbs and spices are beneficial in our diet. In particular, the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of herbs and spices can help to reduce the signs of ageing and slow the natural processes of ageing that occur.
One single ingredient in the diet won’t be a miracle; rather an overall healthy diet will help to improve longevity. Herbs and spices are a great way to flavour food and help us to keep that healthy, balanced diet to fight off ageing.
Always seek the guidance of your doctor, dietitian or other qualified health professional prior to starting a new eating plan.
Explore more content like this in our series, Ask a Dietitian.
Health & Performance Collective is the brainchild of Sydney Dietitians Jessica Spendlove and Chloe McLeod. They use their 20 years of combined knowledge and skills as dietitians to work with motivated people to live and perform at their best.