It’s BBQ season! Grilling meat is a summer past time for many, however truth be told, it does come with some health risks. In general, diets high in meat are associated with heart disease and when meat is cooked at high temperatures, cancer-causing chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are created. However, meat consumption in moderation can be supportive of good health especially when grilled in combination with herbs and spices. There are many benefits of cooking with herbs and spices such as reducing your salt intake, improving digestion and the prevention of chronic diseases. Here I describe the health benefits of the top herbs and spices to use this BBQ season.

First, make a marinade:

Marinating is the process of soaking your meat before you grill it in a liquid to tenderize the meat and to add flavour. A good marinade consists of oil, sea salt, herbs and spices, and an acidic liquid such as wine or vinegar. Some studies have shown that marinating steak with herbs and spices reduces the formation of the HCAs by up to 99 per cent. Soak your meat for a minimum of 10 minutes, choosing a shorter duration for the more delicate proteins such as fish.

Thyme: This herb has a long history of use for the treatment of chest congestion and upper respiratory infections. High in calcium, chromium and fiber, it is the perfect addition to your marinade, side dish or to your homemade salad dressing, adding a punch of flavour and colour.

Oregano: This fibrous herb contains a high concentration of anti-oxidants. Anti-oxidants protect your cells from damage and from premature ageing. Oregano is a potent anti-microbial and the oil extracted from this herb has become very popular in North America as a potent cold and flu fighter.

Tumeric is an Indian herb and according to the American Cancer Society it has been shown in animal studies to kill and slow the growth of cancer cells. A powerful antioxidant, turmeric also blocks beta-amyloid formation in the brain, a compound that subsequently results in Alzheimer’s disease. Turmeric gives mustard its yellow colour and is the main ingredient in curry spice. It works wonderfully as a marinade and it doesn’t have a strong taste.

Garlic: Nick-named ‘the stinking rose’, garlic has been shown in studies to increase blood flow to the brain and to the heart. It reduces blood pressure and prevents atherosclerosis by making your platelets less sticky. Garlic goes well with almost any meat dish.

Chili Peppers: Chili contains capsaicin which has been shown in studies to increase your body’s fat burning capacity, according to the ‘British Journal of Nutrition’. Chili has also been shown to regulate blood sugar and insulin levels.

Sage: Sage enhances your memory. It contains antioxidants and helps to protect your brain cells from premature aging. The terms, ‘wise sage’ and ‘giving sage advice’ will help you to remember this health benefit.

Rosemary is known for its piney flavor. It is a source of fiber and minerals such as iron. The essential oil of rosemary has been shown to improve memory and a recent study found in the journal, ‘Behavioural Brain Research’, demonstrated that rosemary has an anti-depressant effect on the brain. Traditionally, rosemary goes well with lamb and roasted vegetables.

Basil: There are many varieties of basil however, the type of basil commonly seen in the grocery stores is the broad leaf basil used in Mediterranean cooking. The nutrients contained in basil include potassium and vitamin K. Basil is a common ingredient in pesto sauce and is a potent anti-inflammatory. If you are using the fresh leaves, add it near the end of your cooking.

About the Author

Dr. Olivia Rose graduated from the University of Guelph with a Bachelor of Science Honours degree in Nutritional and Nutraceutical Sciences and in 2006, she graduated from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine.

In addition to her private practice, Dr. Rose is the director of Fertility Acupuncture Services, a mobile service that brings acupuncture to couples undergoing in vitro fertilization and intrauterine insemination at Toronto fertility clinics. Her special areas of interest include infertility; children and teen health; stress management; weight loss; heart disease; digestive and immune health; skin rejuvenation and pain management. She is a birth doula and has additional training in cosmetic acupuncture and needle-less therapies for skin rejuvenation and joint pain.

Dr. Rose is a sought-after lecturer for community organizations; a freelance writer and mentor to new graduates. She has been interviewed by various media outlets including Global Toronto’s, “The Morning Show”, “News at Noon” and “News Hour”. In her free time, she unplugs at the spa and she enjoys spending quality time with her husband, son and tea-cup Yorkie. For more information on Dr. Rose's practice and special events, please visit -