Turn meals into health foods with herbs and spices

Holly Leber, Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn.
Chattanooga Times/Free Press, Tenn.

Aug. 10–Herbs and spices add flavour 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 dietician 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 flavour to recipes.

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

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.

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.

Health benefits: Can relieve indigestion and nausea, as well as symptoms from irritable bowel syndrome. Not recommended 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.

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.

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.

Chilli 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.

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 dietician 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.

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.

Health benefits: Freshens breath. Anti-inflammatory. 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.

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 Centre; American Cancer Society; whfoods.com; Prevention Magazine; Memorial Sloan Kettering; Food Network.
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