Cooking with herbs is a great way to replace salt, fat and sugar while retaining flavor.

Benefits of cooking with herbs

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The old saying, “variety is the spice of life” holds true for many aspects of life. While eating a variety of foods with lots of colors and flavors supports a healthy lifestyle, herbs are also a powerful tool to diversify your plate and palate. For thousands of years, herbs have been used to not only add flavor, but also for their health benefits. Herbs can be used to replace extra salt, sugar and fat in meals, and they also provide powerful antioxidants.

Using herbs to add flavor to meals is a great way to decrease salt additions. Salt can increase blood pressure, and high blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends 1,500 mg of sodium per day. Using fresh or dried herbs is a healthy way to add flavor and a delicious way to decrease sodium intake in order to take care of your heart.

Cooking with herbs is also a great way to replace fat and sugar while retaining flavor. Removing just 1 tablespoon of fat from a meal can remove up to 100 calories. This could represent a 10-pound weight loss in about one year! When replacing fat or sugar with herbs, there is virtually no calorie addition because there are hardly any calories in herbs. (For example, 2 tablespoons of chopped, fresh basil has 1 calorie.)

Herbs also have the potential to decrease inflammation in the body. Inflammation is found to be a precursor for many chronic diseases. Therefore, incorporating herbs more frequently into the diet may decrease the risk for disease while also adding flavor to meals.

How does this happen? The key word is antioxidants. Antioxidants are found in plant foods and are also known as phyto-nutrients or plant nutrients. Within the plant, these antioxidants protect the plant from bacteria, fungi and disease. When we ingest these antioxidants, they do the same thing within our bodies to help fight disease, bacteria and inflammation. Antioxidants are powerful substances and research is showing that the addition of herbs can contribute significantly to the daily intake of antioxidants. According to the USDA antioxidant database called ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity), 1 teaspoon of oregano contains as much antioxidants as 3 cups of the super food broccoli. I would never say, “Skip the broccoli and go for the oregano.” If you want to make me really happy, give me a recipe that adds oregano to the broccoli.

Try using nutrient-packed fresh and dried herbs and unsalted seasoning blends to help spruce up dressings, sauces, salads, soups, whole grain pasta dishes, beans, vegetables, fruits, meat and fish.

For Fruits and Veggies: More Matters Month, branch out and use more fresh and dried herbs on your fruits and vegetables. Try something new! Have you ever had fresh basil with your watermelon? Or fresh dill sprinkled on your cucumber slices? The addition of herbs can pack your foods with a lot of nutrients, and the possibilities are endless.