When talking about antioxidants, chances are visions of dark chocolate, juicy strawberries and pomegranate juice pop into your head. What about cinnamon or oregano? Creating meals using spices and herbs is one of the best ways to add color, taste and aroma (and antioxidants!) to foods without adding salt or fat.
Antioxidants may help to reduce inflammation, reducing your risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other chronic disease. Here are seven herbs and spices that pack a powerful antioxidant punch.
Nutritional Highlights: Keep a shaker of cinnamon handy because this spice is not only versatile but contains the highest antioxidant levels of any spice. In addition to its potent antioxidant profile, early studies suggested that cinnamon might be effective for lowering blood sugar (glucose) levels in people with diabetes, although more research is needed.
How to use it: For those of you with a sweet tooth, use cinnamon for extra flavor and sweetness instead of added sugar. Jazz up plain cereal, yogurt and oatmeal with cinnamon, sprinkle on toast with peanut butter or almond butter, or even use in savory dishes with quinoa or couscous.
Nutritional Highlights: Derived from the flower buds of the evergreen clove tree, this spice is rich in polyphenols, which are plant-based compounds that have antioxidant properties.
Cloves are chock-full of antioxidants. Just ½ teaspoon of ground clove contains more antioxidants than ½ cup of blueberries.
How to use it: Ground clove is a flavorful addition to applesauce, stewed pears, and baked goods like sweet breads, muffins, and cookies. For a fragrant fall beverage, simmer 1 bottle (64 ounces) apple juice, 2 tablespoons honey, 4 Cinnamon Sticks, 1 teaspoon Whole Cloves and 1/2 lemon, sliced, in large saucepot for 30 minutes. Strain. Serve warm or chilled (recipe obtained from McCormick®).
Nutritional Highlights: Used commonly in Mediterranean and Mexican cuisine, this flavorful herb contains the highest amount of antioxidants of 27 fresh culinary herbs. One teaspoon of dried oregano leaves provides as many antioxidants as ½ cup of strawberries or 3 ounces of almonds.
How to use it: Oregano goes far beyond spaghetti and pizza sauce. To flavor your eggs without the added fat, mix vegetables in with a dash of oregano instead of cheese. For an antioxidant boost, add oregano to your grilled cheese sandwich, casseroles and salad dressings.
Nutritional Highlights: Historically, ginger has been used to treat upset stomachs, the common cold and even motion sickness. Recently the focus has shifted to a compound in ginger called gingerol. Gingerol is thought to have anti-inflammatory properties and may help to sooth sore muscles after a hard work out. Ginger may also have cancer-fighting properties but more research is needed in this area.
How to use it: Add ¼ teaspoon ground ginger to vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes. Mix into fruit smoothies or add to fresh fruit like melons, peaches and pears. Add a hint to hot or cold tea or create Asian flare by adding to marinades and sautéed vegetables.
Nutritional Highlights: Turmeric gives curry powder its distinctive hue. Turmeric also contains a compound called curcumin. This bright-yellow compound is the focus of research for its potential to ward off diseases such as cancer, arthritis, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
How to use it: Stir Turmeric into 1 tablespoon low fat plain or Greek style yogurt. Swirl mixture into a serving of lentil or split pea soup to add a color and flavor boost (recipe obtained from McCormick®). Add to any vegetable dish for added curry flavor.
Nutritional Highlights: Garlic enhances the flavor of everything from pasta sauce to bread, but can it prevent disease? Maybe. Research is focusing on garlic’s anticancer and cholesterol-lowering properties.
How to use it: sauté garlic and add to roasted vegetables and pasta sauce. Garlic used to flavor many foods, such as salad dressings, vinaigrettes, marinades, sauces, vegetables, meats, soups, and stews. Garlic powder can be substituted if necessary – 1/8 teaspoon of garlic powder is equal to one medium fresh clove of common garlic.
Nutritional Highlights: Contains a powerful compound called capsaicin, whose antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties may help lower risk of some cancers (also found in red chili peppers and cayenne). Hint: the hotter the pepper, the more capsaicin you’ll find. Capsaicin may also help you to eat fewer calories during a meal by signaling your body that you’re full.
How to use it: Sprinkle over grilled or roasted meat, fish and poultry. Instead of using the salt shaker spice up your popcorn by make your own seasoning: combine paprika, ground thyme and ground pepper and sprinkle on plain popcorn.
Need a Registered Dietitian?
For more information or to make an appointment with a registered dietitian, call WakeMed Cary Hospital Outpatient Nutrition Services at 919-350-2358.
Amy Bowen, RD, LDN is a clinical dietitian at WakeMed Cary Hospital.