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Making Healthy Meals Delicious with the Help of Herbs and Spices

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Making Healthy Meals Delicious with the Help of Herbs and Spices

Herbs have been used to flavor foods for thousands of years. Often we associate a particular herb with a certain culture or a specific food. Herbs not only add these distinctive flavors to foods, but can also provide health benefits including antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. In some cases herbs can even reduce unpleasant symptoms like nausea. Depending on the climate, you may be able to grow some of these herbs in your own garden. Let’s explore some of these.

Oregano is known by many for its antioxidant value. It is also high in vitamin K, manganese and iron. It has received some recent attention due to studies assessing its antibacterial properties. Oregano has shown promise in slowing the growth of bacteria in raw meats. It possesses a distinctive flavor that is associated with Italian recipes. Oddly enough it is the Greek variety that is usually used. Authentic Italian oregano has a minty flavor.

Tip: If you grow your own oregano, make sure the seeds are marked “Greek.” Sprinkle fresh oregano on your salad or your pizza.

The ginger plant actually produces white and pink flower buds. It can grow up to four feet tall. The rhizome (in Greek this means “cluster of roots”) is what is harvested and used. Ginger has long been known for its ability to treat nausea. This seems to have some scientific merit. In some studies it has been shown to work better than a placebo in treating nausea. A 2012 review reported that it was even effective against chemotherapy-induced nausea. Ginger also contains promising anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. If you are pregnant, consult your doctor before using ginger. Use caution if you are taking warfarin (a common blood thinner) or if you have a history of gallstones. Try our Korean dressing recipe for a lunchtime salad.

Tip: Steep ginger in boiling water to make tea to help alleviate symptoms of an upset stomach.

Turmeric is known for its bright yellow color associated with Indian curry and mustard. Curcumin is the ingredient in turmeric that is a powerful antioxidant. It has been studied in cancer prevention and although it looks promising, the results are not considered conclusive. Some research has shown that turmeric seems to improve symptoms of indigestion and reduce relapses in people suffering from ulcerative colitis.

Tip: Toss a small amount of turmeric with roasted vegetables or whole grain rice. It will give any dish a smoky, warm flavor.

Dill is unique in that both the plant and the seeds can be enjoyed. The plant, which is referred to as dill weed, contains vitamins A and C. One of the antioxidants in dill weed, quercetin, is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Dill has a mild flavor and is easily incorporated into many dishes like salmon or potatoes.

Tip: Mix dill in yogurt to make a vegetable dip. When cooking with dill, discard the stems and add the leaves towards the end of cooking so that the heat will not reduce its flavor.

Many other herbs like chives, cilantro, sage and mint also have interesting flavors and reported health benefits. The wonderful thing about herbs is that they don’t contain unhealthy nutrients like saturated fat, sodium or excessive calories. Herbs do enhance your foods with many flavors and few nutritional side effects!

Article provided by Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services.

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