Written by Sonya Luisi, M.S. Dietetics and Nutrition
Health and wellness professionals recommend using more spices and herbs as a way to improve our health and the overall quality of our diet.
Herbs come from plant sources and include oregano, cilantro and parsley. Spices come from seeds, berries, bark or roots of plants and include cinnamon, chili pepper and curcumin.
Herbs and spices are commonly known for their anti-inflammatory properties, which are associated with reduced risk of chronic diseases. Studies have shown they contain high antioxidant* and polyphenol, a type of plant compound, levels that aid in the prevention of heart disease and cancer. However, so many health promoting properties exist beyond those that we commonly hear about. For example, basil has been linked to boosting the brain’s ability to produce serotonin and dopamine – the happy hormones –, which may be a treatment for depression and anxiety!
Spices may be used fresh, dried or cooked. Gently heat spices first to release their natural aroma and nutritional benefits. Herbs may be consumed fresh, dried, raw or cooked and our bodies will digest and absorb the nutrients just the same. However, when cooking with fresh herbs, separate the leaves from the stems and use only the leaves. Use a sharp knife and cut gently. Using a dull knife will bruise the herb and may misplace the flavor onto the cutting board surface. You may also try using herbs topically as a therapeutic oil treatment on skin, hair and nails. Oregano oil, for example, has anti-fungal properties and is used to treat nail fungus.
Beyond the extensive medicinal and therapeutic benefits, including spices and herbs in dishes adds flavor without fat, salt or sugar. So, choosing to season our meals daily with fresh herbs and spices may increase our overall health and protect our bodies at a cellular level.
*Antioxidants are substances, such as beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, selenium and vitamins A, C and E, found in foods like fruits and vegetables that protect our cells against the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are molecules that are found everywhere, in the air, our bodies, and the materials around us. They are produced when our body breaks down food through metabolism or through environmental factors such as pollution, radiation, cigarette smoke and herbicides. Normally the body can handle free radicals, but as we age free radical production increases and if antioxidants are unavailable damage can occur.
TOP 10 HERBS & SPICES FOR HEALTH BENEFIT
Warm aromatic flavor. Include in tomato sauce, whole grain breads or sweet quick breads, marinades for meats and poultry, salad dressings and on vegetables.CinnamonSweet and spicy flavor. Add to oatmeal, simmer with low-fat milk/almond milk for a warming beverage, and add to curry sauces, meats and vegetables for a Middle Eastern inspired meal.BasilSweet and earthy taste. Goes well with tomatoes, cheese, whole grain breads, pizza, pasta, and olives. Flavor water with basil and citrus.Chili PeppersFlavor oils for salads or dressings. Add to quick breads.RosemaryAromatic herb with a warm essence. Pairs well with Mediterranean foods. Include in tomato sauce, whole grain breads or sweet quick breads and marinades. Flavor white beans, potatoes, mushrooms, polenta and apples.TurmericStir into egg, chicken and tuna salad. Include in dry rub to meats and poultry and add to vinaigrettes.ThymeA fragrant herb with a warm essence. Flavor casseroles, soups, stews and vegetables. Enhance egg, meat, fish and been dishesGingerSpicy in flavor. Add to smoothies, tea, marinades, and stir-fry. Flavor potatoes, soups, rice, and fruits.ParsleySubtle in flavor. Pairs well with Mediterranean foods. Use in salads, marinades or sprinkle on top of dishes as a decoration.Cilantro Pairs well with Latin foods. Add to beans, cheese, eggs, fish, vegetables and dips. Add as a topping for soups and salads.