published Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

Turn meals into health foods with herbs and spices

Herbs and spices add flavor to an everyday diet, and they can have health benefits as well.

“When you think about it, a lot of pharmacology started off in extractions from plants,” said Patricia Partain, registered dietitian with Memorial Hospital.

“Even though benefits have been shown, there’s still a lot that’s being done as far as research,” she said.

Nutrition experts have recommended adding spices rather than salt to add flavor to recipes.

Partain and fellow Chattanooga registered dietitian Jamie McDermott cited the 10 herbs and spices below as some of the healthiest to incorporate into your diet.

Turmeric

Health benefits: A calming spice, good for digestion. A 2006 study at Johns Hopkins University suggested that curcumin, a chemical found in turmeric, may be helpful in reducing colon cancer.

How to use it: Add to curries. Mix with scrambled tofu or eggs. Stir into water being used for quinoa, rice or couscous.


Garlic

Health benefits: Has been shown to possibly lower blood sugar and cholesterol. Is used to prevent onset of heart disease. Possibly an anti-viral.

How to use it: Most beneficial when chopped or mashed 10 minutes before use. Roast in the oven and eat plain. Add to pizza. Grate into stir-fries. Add to tomato sauce. Make a Spanish garlic soup. Serve over pasta with olive oil.


Peppermint

Health benefits: Can relieve indigestion and nausea, as well as symptoms from irritable bowel syndrome. Not recomm-ended for people with acid-reflux disease.

How to use it: Steep in hot water to make peppermint tea. Crush with lemon juice, simple syrup and ice for a cooling granita. Mix in finely chopped mint with feta cheese, salt and pepper and use as a dip or spread.


Parsley

Health benefits: High in potassium, can help control high blood pressure and fluid retention. High in vitamins K, C and A.

How to use it: Add to pesto or tabouli. Sprinkle over potatoes. Make a salad with lemon juice, tomatoes, chopped onions and feta cheese. Add to soup. Mix into meatloaf or hamburgers.


Rosemary

Health benefits: May reduce potentially carcinogenic HCA levels when mixed with meat before cooking. Has been used to cure indigestion. Can act as a diuretic.

How to use it: Rub rosemary extract or ground rosemary over meat before grilling. Sprinkle over potatoes before roasting. Add to salmon. Bake into breads. Add to tomato sauce.


Chili Pepper

Health benefits: Contains capsaicin, an anti-inflammatory. Can temporarily increase heat production in the body. Capsaicin has been used to help with circulatory problems and weight loss.

How to use it: Mix into mashed potatoes or eggs. Stir into softened butter, with lime zest, to spread on corn on the cob. Stir into hot chocolate.


Cinnamon

Health benefits: Anti-inflammatory. Can lower blood sugar. Can have an anti-carcinogenic effect. While there has been some indication that cinnamon can increase metabolism, Chattanooga registered dietitian Jamie McDermott doubts this. “Nothing is good for metabolism except increasing muscle mass and eating regularly,” she said.

How to use it: Sprinkle on oatmeal, sweet potatoes and applesauce. Bake into cookies and pies. Use to spice meatballs or chicken.


Ginger

Health benefits: Has been shown to help alleviate nausea and vomiting, especially when related to pregnancy. Good for digestion. Anti-inflammatory, has shown evidence in aiding symptoms of osteoarthritis.

How to use it: Grate and add to broths or to stir-fry dishes. Steep in hot water and add lemon and honey to make a soothing tea. Bake gingersnaps or gingerbread.


Basil

Health benefits: Freshens breath. Anti-inflamm-atory. A good source of magnesium and vitamin A.

How to use it: In pesto sauce. Paired with tomatoes and mozzarella in a Caprese salad. Sprinkle over chicken before cooking. Add to lemonade.


Lavender

Health benefits: Calming, can aid with sleep.

How to use it: In a tea. Baked into cookies. In Herbes de Provence, a mix of fennel, basil, thyme and lavender, which can be added to meat or rice.

Sources: Patricia Partain, RD; Jamie McDermott, RD; University of Maryland Medical Center; American Cancer Society; whfoods.com; Prevention Magazine; Memorial Sloan Kettering; Food Network.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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