Delicious and Herbaceous: Healthy Herbs to Add to Your Cooking
One general rule for healthy eating is to try to make sure your plate typically boasts a bountiful area of natural colors, generally representing a solid mix of healthful vitamins and minerals contained in favorite fruits and veggies. In particular, it’s good practice to make sure there are a lot of green leafy vegetables and herbs on your plate for added flavor and nutrients, as opposed to relying on excess salt. Here’s a list of herbs to heap into your grocery cart.
(Adapted from Everyday Health’s “7 Healthy Herbs You Should Be Cooking With”.)
- Oregano- A featured staple of both Italian and Greek cooking, oregano is part of the mint plant family and possesses high antioxidant levels. These antioxidant levels rival and sometimes exceed fruits like blueberries and apples, which are well-known antioxidant sources. Antioxidants help to inhibit chemical reactions inside the body that produce free radicals that often damage cells and can lead to diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. Dill and thyme are also full of antioxidants, as well as some other herbs that will later be discussed in this list.
Dried oregano is a common way to enjoy this herb, but to get richer flavor and fuller benefits, try using fresh leaves. Oregano can be used not just in pizza, but other uses include chili, marinades, pasta sauce, egg dishes and salad dressings. To avoid overpowering the dish, wait to add oregano leaves to dishes during the final few moments of cooking.
- Peppermint- This festive burst of loveliness is one of the easiest herbs to grow, and possibly one of the healthiest. The peppermint herb contains several healthful flavonoid antioxidant compounds, which have anti-inflammatory benefits as well as help with cellular processes, metabolic nutrient transfer and elimination of toxic by-products, according to a study published in Phytotherapy Research. The herb has also shown promise in easing gastrointestinal symptoms, as well as the potential as a mood booster and sharpener of fuzzy thinking. Peppermint leaves can be used in tea or to add freshness to vegetables, fruit salads, sauces, grain bowls and smoothies.
- Basil- According to nutritional analysis conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), basil has significant amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin, compounds that reduce the possible emergence of macular degeneration, which is the most common reason for age-related vision loss. These compounds and similar carotenoid antioxidants in basil have been associated with better cognitive function in women, notedaJournal of Nutrition study published in July 2020. Other necessary vitamins in basil include vitamin K, as well as lesser amounts of vitamin C, beta-carotene and manganese.
You are probably familiar with basil as the star of beloved Italian classics like pesto, pizza and caprese salad, but the sweet herb is versatile, working well in a range of dishes and cocktails. Perhaps pair it with summer favorites like peaches, grilled meats and of course, tomatoes.
- Parsley- Often treated as an ignored garnish, parsley is rich in heart-boosting vitamin K, so it should be featured in our diets more often. Vitamin K helps the body create blood clotting proteins needed to stop wounds from excessive bleeding. The vitamin also helps fortify bone density to reduce osteoporosis risk. Vitamin C, beta carotene and the building blocks for vitamin A are also part of parsley’s makeup.
Parsley’s mild bitter flavor and fresh peppery taste make it good for so much in the kitchen. Chop and toss a few handfuls into soups, salads, potatoes, pastas and more. Please note that if you are buying parsley at the store that parsley and cilantro look very similar. Parsley is the one with slightly stiffer green and pointier leaves. Otherwise, just pay close attention to the packaging.
- Rosemary- Another member of the mighty mint family, rosemary is loved for its intoxicating smell and flavor. It is also easy to grow indoors, ideal for urban gardeners. It’s an antioxidant powerhouse with aromatherapeutic benefits. Rosemary is great for flavoring grilled meats, roasted root vegetables and stews, as well as numerous other applications.
- Sage- Ever heard the phrase ‘sage wisdom’? Maybe it partly has to do with sage’s cultural reputation for medicinal properties, as well as research that indicates it may aid brain function and memory. This is due to its possible abilities to enhance brain signals, as inferred by an International Journal of Molecular Sciencesreport published in July 2021.
Often used in Thanksgiving turkey and stuffing, sage has year-round appeal for marinating meat, cooking in bread, adding flavor to bean dishes and much more. Sage can be an overpowering flavor, but cooking it for longer time periods mellows it, so be strategic when you add it in.
- Cilantro- Cilantro is a bit of a polarizing flavor due to an interesting genetic phenomenon. Some people dislike cilantro because of a genetic fluke that makes them sensitive to the smell of aldehyde compounds in cilantro, affecting their taste buds so that cilantro tastes like soap to them. Cilantro lovers, however, report a citrusy and peppery flavor and pleasing smell. If you are lucky enough to not have the soap taste reaction, cilantro could be your best friend in the kitchen. Cilantro, like parsley, has a lot of vitamin K, as well as antioxidants. If you find that you just don’t like cilantro, try parsley instead. Cilantro brightens up so many Mexican and Asian dishes, a great finishing touch for salads, soups, dips, beans, tacos and elotes.
If you have an interest in how culinary arts and nutrition can intersect, explore the possibilities of Life U’s B.S in Culinary Nutrition program.
Slice of LIFE is an invitation to and extension of everything happening at Life University. Whether you are a current student, a potential freshman or a proud alumni, Slice of LIFE can help keep you connected to your academic community. Know of a compelling Life U story to be shared, such as a riveting project, innovative group or something similar? Let us know by emailing Marketing@life.edu.