Updated: Mar 2
Before the times of processed foods, abundant supply of sugar everywhere you turn and industrialization of the food chain, ancient traditions had a thing or two figured out about health and wellness.
Our ancestors had to go with what was available and thousands of years of knowledge of experimenting gave them a pretty good understanding of the properties of nature’s healing herbs and spices.
To this day, not many people know that potent pharmaceuticals and medication has originated from natural herbs, roots and plants. However, different to medication, nature’s medicines rarely have strong side-effects and are gentler on the body, making them into excellent companions for our everyday lives.
Same applies to your favourite herb garden on the kitchen window sill- not only they taste delicious, but each of those herbs have positive effects on your health and can support healing from various ailments.
This is one of the main reasons why people, who cook their food from scratch, often have more balanced diets and more harmonious health.
For a long time, I was completely infatuated with oregano. I went through a stage in life where I tried to add it to anything in sight. Works great on a pizza, but not sure if it worked the same way with scrambled eggs or steamed potato… Only years later I found out that it is one of the most potent antibacterial and antifungal herbs (1), that also supports digestion and improves immunity.
My quest for finding nature’s secret healing herbs has started right then, firstly by rummaging through my spice racks and pantry.
Can spices and herbs really help with sugar cravings?
There certainly is no magic pill that will make the sugar cravings stop, if you change absolutely nothing in your diet and lifestyle. This often involves balancing blood sugar through a series of tweeks in diet, switching up drink choices, adding some little exercise and managing stress well.
However, providing you’re not eating tons of sugar daily and you’re on the way to improving your diet, there are a few ancient herbs and spices that can set you well on the way and even boost your blood sugar balance naturally.
Sounds too good to be true? Let’s dive in and explore some of my favourites, from all around the world. Great news that the knowledge of the centuries is available right there in your kitchen pantry, right now.
First on the list of favourites is cinnamon. Also known as cinnamonum, this spice has been used for thousands of years, dating back as far as Ancient Egypt.
There are two types of cinnamon widely available: Ceylon cinnamon, also known as the ‘true’ or ‘original’ type of cinnamon and the more common variety called Cassia. Although the two can be used interchangeably for culinary purposes, aim to get Ceylon cinnamon when possible as it is often higher in quality and less produced on a mass-scale.
You may already love cinnamon due to its approachable, delicious taste, but did you know that it’s also packed with health benefits?
It’s high in antioxidants and polyphenols (2), which means it helps lower inflammation, reduce oxidative stress in the body and supports healthy aging.
The reason I love using cinnamon and suggest it to many of my clients is because it helps regulate blood sugar imbalances and improve sensitivity to insulin (3).
This is also exactly why cinnamon has gained popularity with people with type 2 diabetes, but you certainly don’t have to be diabetic to reap the benefits for better energy balance, more stable moods and lack of cravings.
And that’s not all- cinnamon is naturally sweet and delicious and is an excellent spice to add to your morning porridge, chia overnights oats or add to your morning latte (preferably matcha) for more stable management of caffeine.
Depends where you go, you may find this herb under two names- coriander and cilantro. Often used interchangeably, coriander in fact is the seed of the cilantro plant. Known as Coriandrum sativum.
A favourite in Indian curries, coriander seeds are also there to serve a purpose of lowering bloating, that may often arise of a diet high in beans and legumes. In modern herbalism widely used for IBS symptoms, bloating, flatulence and digestive discomfort (4).
Coriander seeds have shown significant action in stimulating insulin and increased carbohydrate metabolism (5), which means more stable energy, less cruising through the spikes and crashes of blood sugar imbalances and saying goodbye sugar cravings.
If you also struggle with lowering your cholesterol levels, coriander is the spice for you- research confirms its ability to lower LDL cholesterol levels (6).
A favourite in a curry of your choice, coriander seeds are also a great addition to meat dishes, vegetable stews, lentils and simply fresh vegetables. A good idea is to mix it into your pepper mill to effortlessly keep adding coriander in your daily life.
Widely used all over the world, ginseng originates in Asia and hence there a few different varieties, such as Siberian, Panax or Korean ginseng.
Ginseng is an adaptogenic herb, which means that it belongs to a family of herbs and plants that may help you improve stress response by adapting to your current state (7). They are neither stimulants nor sedatives and therefore they are excellent for giving you exactly what is needed in the moment.
You may have heard before that ginseng is helpful for memory and focus, but that certainly is not all. It has been shown that ginseng is excellent for boosting immunity, relieve stress and mental performance (8,9).
Ginseng has been found to be effective in managing blood sugar levels and stabilizing imbalances (10), therefore being effective in eliminating cravings, energy slumps and fluctuations through the day.
Ginseng certainly isn’t the tastiest of herbs and the easiest way to make sure you get some in your diet is by brewing a ginseng tea. You may often see it as part of a mix with green or herbal tea.
If you’re feeling brave and know that the benefits of ginseng will outweigh the taste, sneak some into your smoothie or juice. Also try it out in my recipe Morning adaptogenic chocolate drink.
An old-time favourite in a number of cuisines all over the world, fenugreek is widely used in curries, mid-eastern dishes and kitchens in other parts of Asia. Ever wonder why so many of the spicy dishes often have a soothing, calming effect on the body and creates a long- lasting feeling of satiety and comfort?
Ayurvedic and Chinese Traditional Medicine practitioners use it for a variety of discomforts and ailments, from diabetes and metabolic imbalances to cooling inflammation in the whole body (11).
Another excellent herb to add to your diet for long-term balance and absence of cravings, fenugreek has shown to be effective in significantly improving blood sugar balance (12) when soaked in hot water, so make sure you soak the seeds before adding it to your meals. Easy to do if you’re cooking up a curry or a stew.
I’m yet to meet a person, who doesn’t like ginger and there’s a good reason for that. Through centuries ginger has become a favourite in kitchens all over the world and with health practitioners from Ayurvedic, Chinese Medicine to Western Medicine traditions.
Ginger root is packed with health benefits and due to its anti-inflammatory nature, is used to improve bone and joint health, reduce morning or motion sickness, relieve bloating and even ease period pains (13, 14). Certainly a pretty handy root to have in your cupboard.
For those experiencing sugar cravings, accompanied by disturbances in sleep, high anxiety levels, energy highs and slumps, you may want to include more ginger in your diet as it has shown to improve blood fasting glucose by up to 12% and long-term blood sugar balance by 10% (15).
Surely you’re familiar with turning to ginger in the flu season and it’s delicious spicy healing tea can truly get you back in action in a few days. Ginger gives a nice spicy kick to foods, whether it’s a Thai soup or a stir fry. If you drink your morning water with lemon juice, try switching it up with ginger instead and see what your body prefers the most.
Take theory back to your kitchen
Options for herbs and spices are endless, whichever cuisine you turn to. These five of my favourite
herbs and spices are only the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to healing herbs. Each one is packed with endless benefits, that even science is yet to discover fully.
It’s all good and well to know about the magic, that the herbs and spices can bring to your life, but it’s equally as important to take the knowledge back into the kitchen and make it work for you in practice.
Hope this inspires you to add a little spice back into your own cooking, get experimenting and create habits that make your body and mind feel better, effortlessly. Healthy food only ‘works’ when it is delicious.
7. A.D (2008) Assessment and Nutraceutical Management of Stress-induced Adrenal Dysfunction. Integrative Medicine 7(5)
9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23395777 10.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4753873/