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What comes to mind when someone mentions antioxidants? Most people think about fruits and vegetables but they are not the only foods packed with antioxidants. Herbs and spices also pack a powerful punch of antioxidants. 


What are antioxidants?

Antioxidants are produced by plants to protect plant cells against oxidative damage. Similarly in humans, antioxidants protect cells from oxidative damage caused by free radicals. When we think of the term ‘free radicals’ we often associate them with negative consequences but they can be both toxic and beneficial. To a certain degree free radicals are necessary for normal processes such as for proper immune function. The problem with free radicals occurs when there are too many free radicals that cannot be neutralized, causing oxidative stress in our bodies. 

To counteract oxidative stress, there are antioxidants produced by the body and dietary antioxidants which we consume like beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E. 


So can I just take vitamin C and E supplements?

Probably not! Supplementing one type of antioxidant in high doses is unlikely to protect all cells from oxidative stress. There are many types of free radicals in our bodies and no single antioxidant will neutralize them all. Therefore it’s important to consume a variety of antioxidants which can be done by eating brightly coloured fruit and veggies, and by using herbs and spices. 


Spices may also have beneficial anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and antimicrobial effects. Let’s take a look at some herbs and spices, their main antioxidants, and ways to use them.  



Clove has one of the highest total antioxidant capacities with eugenol as the main antioxidant present. Clove is a warm and potent spice so a little goes a long way. If you can add cinnamon or ginger to a dish, chances are, a dash of clove will work as well. This means sprinkling it over oatmeal, pears, apples, lattes or baked goods. 



The main antioxidant present in cinnamon is cinnamaldehyde. Try sprinkling cinnamon over yogurt, berries, cereal and toast to help enhance sweetness without the need to add extra sugar. 



Ginger is often used in herbal medicine as a remedy for nausea and to aid with digestion. The main antioxidant in ginger is gingerol. Experiment with ginger by adding it to marinades, stir-frys, salad dressings, and smoothies for a gentle spice. 



The main antioxidant present in turmeric is curcumin. Curcumin has been a hot research topic due to its demonstrated antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer activities, specifically in breast cancer and its effects on cancer cell growth [1]. To add a rich yellow hue or curry flavour to any dish, opt for turmeric. 



Rosmarinic acid is the main antioxidant in rosemary but oregano actually has the highest rosmarinic acid content per 100g. The antioxidant content is actually higher in dried rosemary than fresh rosemary. Rosemary works well in many dishes including soups, meats, and roasted vegetables


Although herbs and spices have many benefits, add them to your diet for a boost of antioxidants and flavor, not for health claims. Using a bunch of herbs and spices won’t delay diseases but can help lower intakes of fat, salt and sugar. Incorporating more antioxidant-rich foods into your diet can also boost your total antioxidant status over time. Next time you cook, try and see what herbs and spices you can incorporate into your food! 


Ombredane, A. S., Silva, V. R., Andrade, L. R., Pinheiro, W. O., Simonelly, M., Oliveira, J. V., Pinheiro, A. C., Gonçalves, G. F., Felice, G. J., Garcia, M. P., Campos, P. M., Luz, G. V., & Joanitti, G. A. (2021). In vivo efficacy and toxicity of curcumin nanoparticles in breast cancer treatment: A systematic review. Frontiers in Oncology, 11. 

Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S. (Eds.). (2011) Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd ed. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis. PMID: 22593937.

Yashin, A., Yashin, Y., Xia, X., & Nemzer, B. (2017). Antioxidant activity of spices and their impact on human health: a review. Antioxidants (Basel, Switzerland), 6(3), 70.