Okay, let’s see a show of hands. How many of us included the perennial “eat healthier” in our New Year’s resolutions?

Yeah, my hand is up too.

How many of us are still going strong in that category? Hmmm…thought so.  We need help!

High five! Being here on Spice Sherpa means you’re one step closer to keeping that pesky healthy eating resolution alive. How? Spices are packed with antioxidants which protect your body from the damaging effects of free oxygen radicals found in our daily environment.

The Mayo Clinic explains that food sources are the best choices for antioxidants. If you want to shake, pinch, or sprinkle some life back into your eat healthy resolution, reach for the spice shelf.

Let me introduce you to your personal team of spice heroes:

1. Cloves.  

Packing a punch in a single pinch!

Science News recently announced that a 2010 issue of the Flavour and Fragrance Journal ranks cloves as the best natural antioxidant based on a study from Miguel Hernández University. Cloves contain high levels of phenolic compounds which have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-clotting properties.

 Pair cloves with apples, oatmeal, black beans, black tea, broth, soups, cakes and cookies.

2. Cinnamon. 

Helping all citizens of the world in every dish.

Apparantly, I can’t go more than a few posts without cinnamon surfacing into the spotlight. It’s well-deserved. The National Institute on Aging in Baltimore Maryland developed a scale for measuring the antioxidant capacity of foods. They call it the (ready?) Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity or ORAC unit. A teaspoons of cinnamon has a higher ORAC score than a 1/2 cup of pomegranate juice! Cinnamon is also an antimicrobial and natural preservative. The Ancient Egyptians used cinnamon in their mummies. Moving to to food… 

Pair cinnamon with virtually anything; chocolate, chili peppers, tomatoes, sugar, cakes, cookies, beef, chicken, onions, bread, honey, cranberries, and rice.

3. Oregano.

Preventing the bland from prevailing.

Surprise! Yes, oregano packs an antioxidant wallup to your menu. When dried, the flavor is more potent than fresh. You can easily grow oregano in a pot during the summer months for instant fingertip access to this super spice. A teaspoon of oregano has more antioxidant power than 1/2 cup of blueberries. It’s also has antimicrobial properties against some food-borne pathogens.

Pair oregano with cumin, cinnamon and chili pepper for a Mexican flavor, tomatoes, pasta, ricotta, eggs, cheese, fish and clear broths.

4. Turmeric.

Bad guys cower when they see turmeric’s golden glow on the scene.

My guess is you’ve encountered someone, at some point, who swears their health allegiance to turmeric. Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory and  provides relief for the many resulting ailments, aches and pains.  World’s Healthiest Foods has amassed some great information on turmeric.  As an antioxidant it ranks right underneath dried oregano which lands it squarely in the super spice level.

Pair turmeric with chicken, fish, pork, butter, cayenne, potatoes, chives, eggs and…of course…curry blends!  Heck, I even used turmeric to color cookies!

5. Parsley.

The master of incognito, this mild mannered garnish is really the brawn behind the free radical smack down.

I thought ginger was going here but according to the ORAC chart ginger is ranked below parsley, curry (which is a blend and will vary), sage and mustard. So let’s give it up for this ubiquitous sprig of garnish. Parsley’s volatile oils classify it as a “chemoprotective” food which means it can help neutralize particular carcinogens. Not bad for a decoration.

Pair parsley with meats including lamb (as a rub with salt and olive oil), bulgur wheat (tabbouleh), tomatoes, soups, pestos (try a walnut, parsley, olive oil pesto).

While these spices are beneficial it’s important to remember the information provided here is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure your health problem or disease.  If you have any questions about your health please talk to your physician. If you want more ideas on how to weave spices into your life subscribe to Spice Sherpa by adding your email at the top of the right-hand column. Thanks!

What do you think of these super hero spices?

Photo attribution: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pejrm/67023542/sizes/m/in/photostream/