Flavouring your foods with herbs and spices can go along way towards cutting your daily sodium intake. For the average Canadian who consumes 3400 mg of sodium each day, that means getting closer to the recommended daily upper limit of 2300 mg.
The benefit of flavouring meals with herbs and spices, though, goes beyond reducing sodium. Herbs and spices contain polyphenols, potent antioxidants that may boost brainpower and guard against cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
Certain herbs and spices have been shown to curb inflammation in the body, lower blood glucose in people with diabetes and improve memory and learning in mice with cognitive decline.
Adding spices to meals can also blunt the rise in blood triglycerides (fats) that occurs after eating a fatty meal. After-meal or postprandial blood triglycerides can damage blood vessels and promote atherosclerosis, or hardening and narrowing of arteries.
Spices (e.g. pepper, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon) come from a part of an aromatic plant other than the leaves such as the bark, roots or berries. Herbs (e.g. basil, rosemary, oregano, dill) come from the leaves of plants.
The active ingredients in herbs and spices degrade over time. If their colour has faded and they don’t release an aroma when lightly crushed in your hand, your herb or spice should be replaced. Store dried herbs and spices in airtight containers away from heat (e.g. not over the stove) and direct sunlight.
A guide to using herbs and spices
Add flavour and antioxidants to your meals without added calories, sodium or fat. When using fresh herbs or spices, double the amount to get the same level of beneficial compounds in their dried forms.
This herb has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant actions. It’s also a source of vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron.
Add dried basil to pasta sauces made with tomatoes canned in no added salt, sodium-reduced soups and homemade salad dressings; toss chopped fresh basil into green and tomato salads; combined basil with olive oil and garlic to make pesto for pizza, bruschetta and salmon filets.
It’s thought to have antibacterial and diuretic effects. Dill is also a rich source of beta-carotene, iron and potassium.
Top salmon with fresh dill before baking or grilling; add chopped dill to coleslaw and steamed carrots and green beans; mix dried dill into stews and sodium-reduced vegetable soups.
Capsaicin, the compound that gives peppers their heat, has anti-inflammatory actions and (in small doses) may aid digestion. Some research hints cayenne can reduce food cravings and increase calorie-burning.
Season pasta sauces, pizza, chili, stews, tuna salad and cooked vegetables with dried cayenne pepper (go easy if you’re not used to hot spice); add a dash of cayenne to hot chocolate.
Some, but not all, studies show it lowers fasting blood sugar and triglycerides in people with diabetes. It’s also thought to have antioxidant and anti-microbial properties.
Add a teaspoon of ground cinnamon to oatmeal, mix into Greek yogurt and stir into French toast batter; mix cinnamon with nut butter and add to protein shakes; add cinnamon to ground coffee before brewing.
Evidence suggests garlic may slow the progression of atherosclerosis, reduce blood pressure and guard against colorectal cancer. It also has anti-microbial and immune-boosting properties.
Use garlic in stir-fries, pasta sauces and salad dressings. Sauté garlic with kale or Swiss chard. Add roasted garlic to homemade bean dips and mashed potatoes.
It’s thought to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial effects. Ginger is also used as a natural remedy to reduce nausea.
Include chopped fresh ginger root in stir-fries, whole grain pilafs, sautéed carrots and fruit salad; add ginger, fresh or dried, to baked winter squash and smoothies.
Its active ingredients have anti-bacterial, anti-viral and antioxidant actions. It may also help improve digestion.
Use it as a seasoning for pizza, pasta sauces, stews, tomato-based soups, salad dressings and Greek salad.
Studies suggest antioxidants in this herb help block the formation of carcinogens formed when meat is grilled or fried. Its essential oils may also ease gut spasms.
Use dried rosemary in a rub (salt free of course) for chicken and meat; add rosemary to pasta sauces and marinades; add chopped fresh rosemary to burger and meatloaf recipes.
This herb has antioxidant and anti-fungal properties and may help ease digestive distress.
Add chopped fresh spearmint to fruit salad, berries, yogurt, smoothies and grain and pasta salads. It’s also delicious sprinkled over roasted vegetables.
This actively studied spice is reported to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-microbial and anti-cancer properties thanks to curcumin, its active ingredient.
Add ¼ teaspoon turmeric to water when cooking rice; mix into vinaigrette salad dressings; stir into olive oil and drizzle over cauliflower before roasting; add to omelets and egg salad.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.