Use herbs and spices to boost flavour and health
With fabulous flavours and wonderful aromas the culinary benefits of herbs and spices are famous around the world. But unbeknown to many of us there’s much more to herbs and spices than flavour…
The nutritional properties of herbs and spices are often overlooked yet many naturally contain antioxidants. A simple pinch, dash or spoonful of herbs and spices can be a healthy boost to many meals.
What are antioxidants and what do I need to know?
Rosemary, Chillies, Cinnamon, Parsley, Ginger, Thyme, Basil, Curry, Oregano, Paprika all naturally contain antioxidants.
Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) is a method of measuring antioxidant capacity of different foods. It is measured in micromol TE. The higher the value the better. To see how these herbs and spices' ORAC values compare to other foods please click on the charts at the bottom of this page.
Antioxidants help protect the body’s cells from damage, helping your body to stay healthy. Found in plants and provided by a wide variety of vegetables and fruit, they may help prevent damage caused by free radicals.
Free radicals are molecules that can damage cells. Produced naturally by the body they also come from pollutants in the environment such as cigarettes and pollution and can enable potentially harmful reactions in the cells in our bodies.
Luckily our bodies also contain antioxidants, which protect us by neutralising or destroying the free radicals. In order to keep our antioxidant levels nicely topped up it is important to eat a well balanced diet.
Antioxidants which include vitamins and minerals (e.g. vitamins C, E, beta carotene, zinc and selenium) are found in many plant-based food products. Fruit, vegetables, tea, herbs and spices… are all excellent natural sources of antioxidants (e.g. polyphenols, flavonoids…).
Antioxidants: beneficial to health?
Studies show that a diet rich in antioxidants, particularly through eating fruit and vegetables, means more antioxidants in the body resulting in potential health benefits, including helping cardiovascular function and possibly increased life expectancy.
The antioxidant activity of herbs and spices in cooking.
Many herbs and spices contain high concentrations of antioxidants, though their benefits can be underestimated because only small quantities are used in cooking. In fact, because their antioxidant content can be higher than many other plant based foods, herbs and spices can make a valuable contribution to a balanced healthy diet.
For example, one teaspoonful of oregano contains as many antioxidants as a cup of red grapes. Some researchers believe that the antioxidants found in foods may combine with each other to enhance their antioxidant effects - in other words, the antioxidant benefits are greater when mixed together.
Adding spices and herbs to a green salad gives a greater overall antioxidant effect compared to the sum of individual antioxidant properties of each separate ingredient. A lovely example of culinary magic!
Whilst there isn’t evidence yet that supports taking separate supplements of high doses of antioxidants, the benefits of a varied diet that provides adequate quantities of fruit and vegetables as well as other naturally rich sources such as herbs and spices, are well recognised:
Cardiovascular function -
Not only do they enable the quantity of salt and fat used in the preparation of meals to be reduced, but some herbs and spices also have high antioxidant contents which, at adequate levels, are thought to help cardiovascular function.
Cognitive functions (memory, concentration, etc) -
Antioxidants may help cognitive functions, particularly important for the elderly. This may be due to the role of antioxidants in limiting oxidisation of molecules in the body, which is responsible for ageing of cells (particularly cells in the nervous system).
Research suggests that many herbs and spices stimulate the production of gastric juices, thus aiding digestion.
To help you enjoy the taste and potential benefits of spices, Schwartz has created a new collection of ‘Healthy Recipes’.
A great tasting, healthy, balanced diet offers so many valuable benefits. Healthy eating can be easy - it’s just a question of making it part of your normal routine.
Eating well isn’t something for the elite, or just for celebrities, and you don’t have to be a Michelin star chef! You don’t need to grow all your own vegetables or only eat organic produce. The secret of healthy eating is remembering that there is no such thing as good and bad food – it’s diets which are either good or bad.
You can eat anything you like, as long as you get the balance of your diet right. Regular exercise is important too.
Healthy eating is sometimes associated with boring and bland food. This shouldn’t be the case - there’s no need to compromise on taste! Herbs and spices make a great addition to any healthy balanced diet. Natural, convenient and low-calorie, herbs and spices are a sensible alternative to sugar, fat and salt.
To find out more about the health benefits of herbs and spices click here http://www.schwartz.co.uk/healthandwellbeing.cfm