Six of the World's Healthiest Spices

Six of the World's Healthiest Spices
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By: Joyce Hendley

Holiday recipes like stuffing, pumpkin pie and gingerbread men are hard to imagine without spices. But back in 1492, before global trade was quick and convenient, spices were scarce enough that their intense flavors and aromas drove Columbus in search of an alternative route to the spice ports of India.

Now, modern science is beginning to uncover the ultimate power of spices and herbs as weapons against illnesses from cancer to Alzheimer's disease. "We're now starting to see a scientific basis for why people have been using spices medicinally for thousands of years," says Bharat Aggarwal, Ph.D., professor at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and author of the upcoming Healing Spices (Sterling, January 2011).

Aggarwal notes that in his native India, where spices tend to be used by the handful, incidence of diet-related diseases like heart disease and cancer have long been low. But when Indians move away and adopt more Westernized eating patterns, their rates of those diseases rise. Although researchers usually blame the meatier, fattier nature of Western diets, Aggarwal and other experts believe that herbs and spices, or more precisely, the lack of them, are also an important piece of the dietary puzzle. "When Indians eat more Westernized foods, they're getting much fewer spices than their traditional diet contains," he explains. "They lose the protection those spices are conveying."

Although science has yet to show that any spice cures disease, there's compelling evidence that several might help manage some chronic conditions (though it's always smart to talk with your doctor). And of course, seasoning your dishes with spices allows you to use less of other ingredients linked with health problems, such as salt, added sugars and sources of saturated fat. What's not to love? Here we've gathered six of the healthiest spices and herbs enjoyed around the world.

Check out the slideshow above for 6 of the healthiest spices the world has to offer.

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