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Antioxidants in a Pinch

Some herbs and spices–including cinnamon, cloves, lemonbalm, marjoram, oregano, and peppermint–are so rich in antioxidants that just a small pinch can go a long way.

January 18, 2012 |
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Acknowledgements

Images thanks to Javier Lastras, BrokenSphere, Luc Viatour, Henna, Miansari66, Rillke, Jorge Barrios, NCI, and Evan-Amos via Wikimedia Commons, HatM, and istockphoto.

Transcript

Dried Indian gooseberries may be the healthiest snack on the planet. Two hundred times the antioxidant content of blueberries. So, most antioxidant content per serving, but ounce for ounce, dried herbs and spices pack, on average, the greatest antioxidant punch. For example, herbs and spices may max out at ten times the antioxidant power of nuts and seeds. But, look, it's easy to eat an ounce of nuts. Not so easy, an ounce of nutmeg. So, but look, some herbs and spices are so off-the-chart amazing, that even just a small pinch can go a long way.

Here's the antioxidant power of a bowl of spaghetti [7] and marinara sauce [60]. Let's make that whole wheat spaghetti [68]. And maybe a few florets of steamed broccoli on top, and you have a nice 142 antioxidant unit meal. But sprinkle one little spoonful of dried oregano on top [260], and you nearly double the antioxidant power of that meal.

Here's a bowl of oatmeal [16]. Here's a bowl of oatmeal with just a half teaspoon of cinnamon on top [116], dramatically boosting the nutrition.

Now whenever I eat anything, I always try to think of ways I can add something to boost the nutrition in the end. Can I throw in some greens or beans? Can I sprinkle herbs or spice on top? But which are the most powerful? Here's a teaspoon of oregano -- one of the best. And cinnamon. But both beaten out by marjoram, which is in the oregano family, but more than 50% more powerful than oregano. So if instead of oregano, you sprinkled marjoram, you'd be up to here [326].

Next: allspice. Then, dried lemon balm, which makes a really nice tea. I used to grow it in my garden. And speaking of tea: dried peppermint. Try sprinkling dried mint on salads, foccacia, tabouli, it goes good in Indian dishes... It's always a good idea to have some around.

And then finally, the leader of the pack: cloves! Here's that unassuming oatmeal with a half teaspoon of cinnamon [116] and just a pinch of cloves [161].

In a few minutes, you can microwave a sweet potato [56], mash it up with some cinnamon [156] and cloves [246] for a nice kind of pumpkin pie taste, and you have a cheap, simple, easy snack -- snack! -- with more antioxidants than some people get all day long! For example, Egg McMuffin for breakfast [13], Big Mac for lunch [31], then an 8-oz. filet mignon for supper [38], even with a few sprigs of parsley on top [44] . Our "pumpkin pie" sweet potato may have the antioxidant power of nearly a week's worth of the Standard American Diet in one healthy snack.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is transcript contributed by Bruce A. Hamilton.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. Be sure to check back for the other videos on herbs and don't miss all the videos on spices. And there are 1,449 subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them!

For more context, check out my associated blog posts: Acai to Zucchini: antioxidant food rankingsAntioxidants in a Pinch: Dried Herbs and Spices, Top 10 Most Popular Videos of the YearIncreasing Muscle Strength with FenugreekPlant-Based Diets for Metabolic Syndrome,  Hibiscus Tea: The Best Beverage?Cinnamon for Diabetes, and Which Common Fruit Fights Cancer Better?

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. Be sure to check back for the other videos on herbs and don’t miss all the videos on spices. And there are 1,449 subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/thea/ Thea

    I LOVE this video!!!!

    This video definitely fills your “practical” criteria. It is so helpful in really explaining the situation, putting things into perspective. This will be one of my go-to videos to share with people. (Though it is so hard to choose!)

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/bbfarm/ bbfarm

    This is a great addition to a growing collection of videos that seem to presuppose that the more antioxidants one consumes the better. Is there evidence to support this notion? Should I always strive to consume as many antioxidants as possible, as these videos suggest, or is there some reasonable upper limit that would counteract all likely nutritional sins and beyond which there is no point in consuming more?

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/thea/ Thea
    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/georgei/ GeorgeI

      Excellent point. More is not always better. I have seen articles here and there that spices and herbs, in too great a quantity could have some undesirable effects.

      However, Dr. G’s recommendations aren’t all that radical.

      A teaspoon of cinnamon in your morning oatmeal? A glass of hisbicus punch? Putting oregano on pasta sauce?

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/bbfarm/ bbfarm

    Thanks, Thea. Those two videos come close to answering my question: the first, on the Mitochondrial Theory of Aging, seems wholly persuasive to me, but doesn’t address the question of how much is enough of antioxidants; the paper referenced in the second video offers evidence that the more antioxidants one consumes the more they are absorbed, but this doesn’t really answer the question: Is there some upper limit of antioxidants one should consume to derive the maximum possible benefit? Not that it’s a hardship consuming all those delicious antioxidants….

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/thea/ Thea

      bbfarm: good point. I don’t have a definitive answer for you, but I have some thoughts.

      On one hand, I seem to remember hearing on one of the videos (either one of the videos about problems with multivitamins or one of the videos on vitamin D recommendation) that *yes*, there could be some problems with over-dosing on certain antioxidants. (I don’t have time to try to track down that video.)

      On the other hand, I think the situation is pretty complicated and that we probably don’t have a definitive answer to the question just yet. Aren’t there a bazillion (or so :-) different antioxidants? And we only seem to focus on a small number. When we eat food like berries, they are “package foods”. We aren’t eating just one single antioxidant or even only antioxidants, but a whole range of materials. My gut tells me that most of the time, eating whole foods that are stuffed with antioxidants would only be a good thing. That by going that route, we probably couldn’t (easily) over-dose.

      That’s just my gut feeling. I hope someone else has a better answer for you.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/EvanBrand/ Evan Brand

    Dr, Gregor,

    does the anti-oxi value decrease with age of spice (or berry)? If so, how much?

    Second, how much is “toxic”? I heard taking more than 1-2 tbsns of cinnamon a day could be toxic. is one hurting one self if one takes 2 tbsns of all the above mentioned spices a day?

    -Evan

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      Please see my video Oxalates in Cinnamon in terms of dosing. I have a video coming up comparing the safety of the four common types of cinnamon:
      -Cinnamomum verum (“True cinnamon”, Sri Lanka cinnamon or Ceylon cinnamon)
      -Cinnamomum burmannii (Korintje or Indonesian cinnamon)
      -Cinnamomum loureiroi (Saigon cinnamon or Vietnamese cinnamon)
      -Cinnamomum aromaticum (cassia or Chinese cinnamon)
      I’ll go through how you can tell which is which to choose the safest, but just wanted to give you the heads up to make sure you’re using Ceylon (not cassia cinnamon).

      • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/elvin/ Elvin

        In the upcoming video kindly also take into account this kind of cinnamon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saigon_Cinnamon

        • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

          Elvin, I edited my reply above to lay it out–don’t worry I’ll include it!

          • Geoffrey Levens

            A lot of folks use cinnamon for its supposed blood sugar controlling aspect. Isn’t it the much more toxic, cassia type that really has that effect?

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/filippodibari/ filippodibari

    Dr Greger, please, are you here talking about dry or fresh oregano, marjorane, etc.? Thanks. fil

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      These numbers are for dried–fresh is better if you can find it. The best way is to grow it yourself (on the windowsill if need be). Oregano grows like a weed!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/georgei/ GeorgeI

    Dr. Greger;

    Dried oregano or majoram have almost no taste. Is it safe to assume that means the antioxidants have also been lost?

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      The study I pulled these numbers from used dried oregano, but even dried should smell and taste aromatic. Sounds like you need to buy some fresher dried herbs! Note my reply to Fillippo above, though.

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/alexandra-georgiadis/ Alexandra Georgiadis

      Hi George,
      The flavor of dried spices are often brought out when they are cooked, or added to hot meals. So if you’re just adding it to salads or room temperature foods you may not get as much flavor out of them. Also, I have found that different brands of spices are better than others, try experimenting! Better yet, bulk spices tend to have the strongest aromas and flavors (from my experience) and you can buy very small amounts at a time. Rest assured antioxidants are still present in dried spices!
      Check out more information on the different health benefits of spices: http://nutritionfacts.org/blog/2011/08/23/can-antioxidant-rich-spices-counteract-the-effects-of-a-high-fat-meal/
      And here are a couple videos about other antioxidant rich food sources: http://nutritionfacts.org/video/antioxidant-content-of-300-foods http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/new-antioxidant-superstars-2/
      I hope this helps!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/elvin/ Elvin

    According to this — http://www.jacn.org/content/20/suppl_5/464S.full — antioxidants are not necessarily a good idea. Well?

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/bbfarm/ bbfarm

    Note though, Elvin, that the study you reference questions the usefulness of antioxidant supplements by offering evidence that this kind of antioxidant can be beneficial or harmful depending on the kind of cancer one has (harmful for lung cancer, for example, while beneficial for prostrate cancer) and one’s natural background level of reactive oxygen species (ROS). The authors don’t question the benefits of antioxidants derived from whole plant foods; their reference numbers 42 through 45 refer to papers that buttress the notion that antioxidants derived from whole foods are unequivocally good.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/yummy/ yummy

    Dr G…have you tried purple sweet potatoes ?….I buy them at my local co-op, so combining them with the cinnamon and cloves would provide even more antioxidents. They have a purple velvet color inside and the skins are a muddy brownish-purple color. They are my very favorite snack or sometimes, breakfast.

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      I’ve always wanted to try them! You wouldn’t care to send me one would you? (hint, hint :) NutritionFacts.org is a completely non-commercial, nonprofit entity but I’m not above accepting exotic veggies! My address, should anyone feel inspired to share in their bounty, is 2100 L st., Washington, DC 20037

      • LynnCS

        Wondering if a supermarket find would grow. How long would it keep till the proper growing season? I want one too. Have to look around. Thanks to yummy for the idea. Lynn

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/georgei/ GeorgeI

    glut.org is a 100% vegetarian co-op in Mt. Raineer Maryland. While they don’t consistently carry it, they often have purple potatoes.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/cchafetz/ cchafetz

    Dr. Greger, I loved your video “Antioxidants in a Pinch”, so I shared it on facebook. A friend of mine who is an acupuncturist and practices chinese medicine wrote the following in quotes. I’m interested in your opinion as I’ve never heard of someone needing fewer antioxidants: “some people actually need oxidants as opposed to anti-oxidants, depends on your relative level of oxidation, and how would anyone know their personal oxidaztion level?”

  • Flexiblelivingllc

    Would therapeutic grade essential oils work the same 

  • Chef John

    What is journal source for Antioxidants in a Pinch?

    The journal, Molecules Vol 15, Issue 10 which you cite

    for the Russian study on antioxidants in sprouted seeds

    is worth reading. I would like to read the full published

    Journal cited for Antioxidants in a Pinch.

    Chef John Rasmussen rawfoodchef.john@gmail.com

  • lovestobevegan

    Even though the soup contains only a few basic ingredients, it is still loaded with antioxidants.

    Get Well Soon Tomato Soup

    -Jar strained tomatoes
    -2 small red onions, diced
    -5 cloves garlic, minced
    -1 tbsp oregano
    -1 tbsp basil
    -1 tsp cilantro
    -1 tsp marjoram
    -1 tsp parsley
    -¼ tsp white pepper
    -¼ tsp cayenne pepper

    Simmer onions and spices in a small amount of water until onions translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Add strained tomatoes. Fill jar with a little water and shake to get out the rest of the tomatoes and add to soup. Bring to a boil then simmer for a couple minutes. Add garlic and simmer a couple minutes more. Serve steaming hot and season to taste with sea salt.

    ~Complements of lovestobevegan

  • LynnCS

    Wow, great information. I’ve heard that cinnamon is good for balancing the blood sugars too. I’ve been using an herbal mix called Italian seasoning sprinkled on my salad most days, for years. Good in a soup too. I am sure there’s a lot of benefit from the oregano and marjoram in it. Who knew? I wonder about the benefit from the rosemary, thyme, sage, and basil in it too since I use so much? Hmmm. I wish they would stop calling things like mushroom powders, herbs. You’re talking real herbs here.

  • Calvin Leman

    Antioxidants in green drink of broccoli, kale, etc.? Like marjoram, maybe?

  • Peep Matts

    sorry but trow away that microwave – it is hazardous to your food and than to your health. Also you should use ceylon cinnamon.

    • barbarabrussels

      Is this (the microwave bit) based on a good study? Thanks

      • Thea

        barbarabrussels: From what I have seen, the microwave is perfectly safe. On top of that, the microwave has the benefit of cooking foods fast and sometimes taking away the need to cook with oils, making the microwave an especially healthy option. (For example, you can cook onions and mushrooms quickly in the microwave without any oil. The food comes out great too!)

        I know the internet has a bazillion pages dedicated to scaring people away from using a microwave. But those pages all seem to be repeats of the same content that has been debunked (at least to my satisfaction). Here is the best page I have found on understanding the microwave and the myths that surround it:
        http://www.drmyattswellnessclub.com/Microwave.htm
        You can see sources sited at the bottom of the page if you want to follow through.

        Hope you found that helpful.

  • albert

    today I had a crazy idea when preparing my oatmeal – I figured, why not to add a full teaspoon of red dried paprika to a bowl (in addition to cinnamon, nuts and flax)? this way it looks much more attractive, not much taste is changed – and one would think an antioxidant score might improve to some significant extent. Now if you had some research proof for this totally groundbreaking/ life-changing innovation… (so the real question is whether dried paprika has any significant anti-ox value as it is a pretty inoffensive spice with great color)

  • MarthaLA

    The following is being shared around facebook. I wondered what you think or know of all this. Legit? —
    _________________________________________________________________________________________

    I have gotten many requests to re-post this! It has gotten more than 28,000 shares! So here it is again!

    Great information!! Cinnamon and Honey…!Drug companies won’t like this one getting around. Facts on Honey and Cinnamon:

    It is found that a mix of honey and cinnamon cures most diseases. Honey is produced in most of the countries of the world. Scientists of today also note honey as very effective medicine for all kinds of diseases. Honey can be used without side effects which is also a plus.Today’s science says that even though honey is sweet, when it is taken in the right dosage as a medicine, it does not harm even diabetic patients. Researched by western scientists:

    HEART DISEASES: Make a paste of honey and cinnamon powder, put it on toast instead of jelly and jam and eat it regularly for breakfast. It reduces the cholesterol and could potentially save one from heart attack. Also, even if you have already had an attack studies show you could be kept miles away from the next attack. Regular use of cinnamon honey strengthens the heart beat. In America and Canada, various nursing homes have treated patients successfully and have found that as one ages the arteries and veins lose their flexibility and get clogged; honey and cinnamon revitalize the arteries and the veins.

    ARTHRITIS: Arthritis patients can benefit by taking one cup of hot water with two tablespoons of honey and one small teaspoon of cinnamon powder. When taken daily even chronic arthritis can be cured. In a recent research conducted at the Copenhagen University, it was found that when the doctors treated their patients with a mixture of one tablespoon Honey and half teaspoon Cinnamon powder before breakfast, they found that within a week (out of the 200 people so treated) practically 73 patients were totally relieved of pain — and within a month, most all the patients who could not walk or move around because of arthritis now started walking without pain.

    BLADDER INFECTIONS: Take two tablespoons of cinnamon powder and one teaspoon of honey in a glass of lukewarm water and drink it. It destroys the germs in the bladder….who knew?

    CHOLESTEROL: Two tablespoons of honey and three teaspoons of Cinnamon Powder mixed in 16 ounces of tea water given to a cholesterol patient was found to reduce the level of cholesterol in the blood by 10 percent within two hours. As mentioned for arthritic patients, when taken three times a day, any chronic cholesterol-could be cured. According to information received in the said Journal, pure honey taken with food daily relieves complaints of cholesterol.

    COLDS: Those suffering from common or severe colds should take one tablespoon lukewarm honey with 1/4 spoon cinnamon powder daily for three days. This process will cure most chronic cough, cold, and, clear the sinuses, and it’s delicious too!

    UPSET STOMACH: Honey taken with cinnamon powder cures stomach ache and also is said to clear stomach ulcers from its root.

    GAS: According to the studies done in India and Japan, it is revealed that when Honey is taken with cinnamon powder the stomach is relieved of gas.

    IMMUNE SYSTEM: Daily use of honey and cinnamon powder strengthens the immune system and protects the body from bacterial and viral attacks. Scientists have found that honey has various vitamins and iron in large amounts. Constant use of Honey strengthens the white blood corpuscles (where DNA is contained) to fight bacterial and viral diseases.

    INDIGESTION: Cinnamon powder sprinkled on two tablespoons of honey taken before food is eaten relieves acidity and digests the heaviest of meals

    INFLUENZA: A scientist in Spain has proved that honey contains a natural ‘Ingredient’ which kills the influenza germs and saves the patient from flu.

    LONGEVITY: Tea made with honey and cinnamon powder, when taken regularly, arrests the ravages of old age. Use four teaspoons of honey, one teaspoon of cinnamon powder, and three cups of boiling water to make a tea. Drink 1/4 cup, three to four times a day. It keeps the skin fresh and soft and arrests old age. Life spans increase and even a 100 year old will start performing the chores of a 20-year-old.

    RASPY OR SORE THROAT: When throat has a tickle or is raspy, take one tablespoon of honey and sip until gone. Repeat every three hours until throat is without symptoms.

    PIMPLES: Three tablespoons of honey and one teaspoon of cinnamon powder paste. Apply this paste on the pimples before sleeping and wash it off the next morning with warm water. When done daily for two weeks, it removes all pimples from the root.

    SKIN INFECTIONS:Applying honey and cinnamon powder in equal parts on the affected parts cures eczema, ringworm and all types of skin Infections.

    WEIGHT LOSS:Daily in the morning one half hour before breakfast and on an empty stomach, and at night before sleeping, drink honey and cinnamon powder boiled in one cup of water. When taken regularly, it reduces the weight of even the most obese person. Also, drinking this mixture regularly does not allow the fat to accumulate in the body even though the person may eat a high calorie diet.

    CANCER: Recent research in Japan and Australia has revealed that advanced cancer of the stomach and bones have been cured successfully. Patients suffering from these kinds of cancer should daily take one tablespoon of honey with one teaspoon of cinnamon powder three times a day for one month.

    FATIGUE: Recent studies have shown that the sugar content of honey is more helpful rather than being detrimental to the strength of the body. Senior citizens who take honey and cinnamon powder in equal parts are more alert and flexible. Dr. Milton, who has done research, says that a half tablespoon of honey taken in a glass of water and sprinkled with cinnamon powder, even when the vitality of the body starts to decrease, when taken daily after brushing and in the afternoon at about 3:00 P.M., the vitality of the body increases within a week.

    BAD BREATH: People of South America, gargle with one teaspoon of honey and cinnamon powder mixed in hot water first thing in the morning so their breath stays fresh throughout the day.

    HEARING LOSS: Daily morning and night honey and cinnamon powder, taken in equal parts restores hearing.

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  • James Allister
  • Andy

    Hey Doc, is there such a thing as anti-oxidant overdosing?

  • Matija Biljeskovic

    Great video Dr. Greger! Is eating an oatmeal with a small teaspoon of amalaki powder once a day safe and how does amalaki compare to cinnamon as an antioxidant?

  • Home Cook

    Dr. Greger, Have there been any studies comparing anti oxidant rankings of dried herbs vs fresh? I look forward to your daily emails. Thank you so much!!!

  • camille

    Speaking of all things dried, I wonder what you think of freeze-dried greens, which one stirs into water for a green drink? Do you see a benefit to such a “super-food” supplement?

  • Vegan56

    Simply Organic has a great array of spices. A little pricey, but watch for sales and snatch them up! Their all-purpose seasoning is my main go-to. They have all of these mentioned.