Spices: Liven up your meals, but also pump up the nutrition!

mediterranean diet

The typical North American diet does not use a lot of herbs and spices and we know that our diet is very low in nutrition.  So I think we are looking to other ways of eating that have more healthy traditions.  Like the Mediterranean diet, depicted in this picture, is rich with health benefits and herbs and spices.

There are so many different herbs and spices, and virtually all have wonderful health benefits.   Herbs all have anti-oxidant properties, in that they reduce the oxidative damage to our cells that we incur from free radical production that is naturally occurring in our bodies, but also from chemicals and pollution in our environment.  This oxidative damage has been speculated to be involved in some diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Multiple sclerosis as well as increased risk of heart disease and cancer and just general increased aging.  While we have identified that the anti-oxidants in certain foods help decrease the oxidative damage, it has been found that it is best to get these anti-oxidants through food, not in a vitamin or supplement form, where we can get too much and create other harms.

Other health benefits have been connected with herbs and spices.  There have been seen to have some benefits such as ginger has been found to help with arthritic knee pain.  Ongoing research has found that ginseng has been helped improve blood sugar levels.  There is also strong evidence to support some herbs can help with cognitive decline and mental function.

Herbs are little powerhouses that you can use to boost your meals.  But another great feature, that should be emphasized almost as much as their anti-oxidant properties, is that you can get a lot of fresh flavour out of your meals, when using herbs, without needing as much salt, sugar or saturated fat.

spices

Here are some of my favourite spices:

Garlic

An association has been found that that eating a half to one clove of garlic daily may have a cholesterol-lowering effect of up to 9% and a modest blood pressure lowering and anti-inflammatory effect.

I love using lots of garlic in every meal possible, adding always as a base to soups, stews, sauces and marinades.  But a really neat way to add garlic as a garnish on things like soups or salads are crispy garlic slices:

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/crispy-garlic-chips-354749

Rosemary

One the nutrition related headlines last year was the WHO’s move to list processed meats as a carcinogen.  There is also connection between red meat and colon cancer, though it is not as strong and therefore, the WHO have not yet set a recommendation on the consumption of red meat.   But WHO does state that data suggest that the “risk of colorectal cancer could increase by 17% for every 100 gram portion of red meat eaten daily”.  One of the issues with red meat is when we cook it, heterocyclic aromatic amines (HCA) are produced, which we know is cancer causing.

However, rubbing rosemary on the outside of your steak before cooking has been shown to decrease the formation of HCAs by 85%.  Rosemary and rosemary extract has also been found to decrease the risk of colon cancer.  I imagine this is due to similar biological functions.

Whenever I BBQ steak I always use a rosemary marinade.  I also love rosemary on roasted potatoes, hashbrowns in the morning and in soups and stews.

Spirolina

Spirolina isn’t necessarily what we would deem an herb, but I thought I would include it as it has some novel nutritional qualities.  Three teaspoons of spirulina has approximately the same amount of iron of a 3 ounce portion of beef.

Spirulina often has to be bought in a specialty food shop.  But is a great vegetarian way to increase your iron consumption.  A teaspoon or two of spirulina can be added to smoothies, homemade muffins, granola bars or even pancakes.