Herbs and Spices for Good Health

By Victoria Shanta Retelny, Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics

Some herbs and spices are great for your health. Did you know that a small sprinkle of cinnamon in your morning coffee or nutmeg over baked acorn squash or the garlic cloves you crush into tomato sauce may be contributing to your health?

Some herbs and spices are believed to fend off inflammation (decreasing the risk of heart disease and type-2 diabetes), help to control blood sugar, aid in digestion, and even fend off gas in the gastrointestinal tract, as well as keep your brain in good working order. Plus, they’re believed to contain phytochemicals or plant compounds, which may offer numerous health benefits.

Spices and herbs come in many different forms: fresh, whole, dried, and ground dried. There are many culinary uses for herbs and spices — they impart delicious flavor to dishes without adding salt, sugar, or fat. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg per day (that’s a teaspoon of salt); if you’re 51 and older, African American, or have high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, the limit is 1,500 mg per day. Herbs and spices offer a tasty solution for reduced-sodium diets.

Stock your spice rack, fridge, or pantry with some of the following herbs and spices in any form and reap the health and flavor rewards:

  • Rosemary: Sprinkle fresh rosemary leaves into diced sweet potatoes with extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, paprika, and a dash of salt for a deliciously aromatic side dish.

  • Dill: Chop fresh dill or sprinkle dried dill into fat-free or lowfat plain yogurt with diced cucumbers and lemon juice for a creamy tzatziki-style dip.

  • Turmeric: Sprinkle dried turmeric into brown or wild rice, tofu, and chicken dishes. It’s great in chili, too!

  • Basil: Stack whole fresh basil leaves between slices of fresh part-skim mozzarella cheese and tomato slices and drizzle lightly with balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil for a refreshing caprese salad.

  • Ginger: Plop a bit of peeled ginger into hot water and steep for three or minutes for a soothing tea, or sprinkle powdered ginger into stir-fried veggies for a delicious dinner.

  • Garlic: Roast, chop, or mince fresh garlic cloves and toss them into soups, stews, sauces, casseroles, and marinades.

Be sure to check your spice rack at least twice a year — dried herbs and spices will lose their pungent flavor. Store in a dry, cool, dark place. Fresh herbs and spices are stored in the refrigerator in the vegetable crisper, preferably in a slightly damp paper towel. They last about a week or two depending upon the hardiness of the plant.