The doctors who recommend a whole foods, plant-based way of eating, including Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn at the Cleveland Clinic and Dr. T. Colin Campbell at Cornell University, all recommend cooking without oils or salt.

What that means is that when making meals that are plant-based, spices are very important for obtaining the right flavors. It’s the spices that are used that will make a person’s dishes come alive.

Of course, there are hundreds of herbs, spices and combinations of herbs and spices that can be used to make a particular dish.

How does a person know what herb or spice to use where? The answer is, generally through experimentation. Try a few different herbs and spices in dishes that you like and see what you like and don’t like about them.

Everybody’s tastes are different. As a result, what one person likes, another might not.

Useful to this experimentation, however, is a book titled “The Vegetarian Flavor Bible” by Karen Page. I have found this book to be absolutely indispensable in my kitchen.

Why? Mainly because I can take any ingredient or combination of ingredients that I’m planning for dinner, and I can find out what spices and herbs to use with those ingredients.

The nice thing is, the author uses boldface type, capitalization and asterisks to show us which spices and herbs go best with a particular ingredient. She also has created “flavor affiliates” that can be used to create a more complex and sophisticated blending of ingredients in a dish.

But flavor is not the only reason to use spices and herbs. They are also loaded with nutrients in a much greater intensity than that found in normal plant foods.

It seems that nature knew what she was doing by making the most nutrient-dense foods the most flavorful also. A very common one that we all know is cinnamon.

Cinnamon has been found to cut the risk of heart disease. It also is known to lower blood sugar, a major concern in diabetes. Scientific studies have also shown that it can protect against diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

As if that’s not enough, cinnamon has also been found to reduce the growth of cancer cells and even kill off cancer cells. A good way to eat cinnamon on a regular basis is to eat oatmeal for breakfast with some cinnamon sprinkled on it.

That’s just one example of the health benefits with spices. All spices have health benefits. So, embrace them. Spices are a key part of a healthy and flavorful diet.

J Lanning Smith is a local freelance writer focused on the whole foods, plant-based lifestyle.