10 ways to improve your nutritional health as you age:#5. Season with herbs and spices

In a previous post I discussed reducing table salt to improve cardiovascular health and well as overall nutrition. Reducing salt can initially make food taste bland but persevere and ones taste buds will become more accustomed. However in the interim or even as a change instead of seasoning your foods with salt why not use herbs and spices? 

There is an excellent article in the Tufts Health and Nutrition letter below. Have a look , but I have made some summary notes below.

Maximizing Flavor with Herbs and Spices

In one study it was found that reducing salt in tomato soup led to a significant decline in consumer acceptability and incorporating herbs and spices did not lead to an immediate enhancement in liking. However, inclusion of herbs and spices enhanced the perception of the salty taste of the low salt soup to the same level as the standard. Thus although onw can’t necessarily reproduce saltiness one might be able to make a less salty tomato soup that tastes as good albeit a bit more herby!

Since studies show taste is ultimately the key factor driving our typical food choices making meals taste great is important and herbs and spices can help reduce the amount of salt but also make recipes more flavoursome and adventurous!

Herbs Versus Spices:

“People have become very accustomed to the taste of salt,” says Nicola McKeown, PhD, an associate professor at Tufts’ Friedman School. “Introducing herbs and spices while gradually cutting back on salt may make it easier to reduce sodium in your diet.” 

Herbs are from the leafy part of plants with non-woody stems, like parsley, rosemary, thyme, dill, basil, mint and oregano. Such herbs may be sold fresh or dried and are typically used in larger amounts than spices.

Spices are more commonly sold dried, either whole or ground, and tend to have a stronger flavour than herbs. Spices are from various parts of either woody or non-woody plants, as in these examples:

– Root-like stems (rhizomes): ginger, turmeric

– Flower buds: capers, cloves

– Flower stigmas: saffron

– Fruits (berries): peppercorns, allspice

– Seeds: cardamom, cumin

– Bark: cinnamon

In addition to these common herbs and spices, there also are plants that may be thought of as vegetables but are often used for seasoning. Garlic, onions, celery and chili peppers are a few examples. 

As a group, herbs and spices contain more than 2,000 different phytochemicals. One group of phytochemicals that predominates in herbs and spices is polyphenols, which may have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and other potential beneficial health effects.

Drying an herb or spice concentrates the polyphenols but even so you will only get a small amount of polyphenols from a single herb or spice in a dish (because so little is typically used for seasoning) compared to the amount you’d get in a polyphenol-rich vegetable or fruit, like broccoli or blueberries. So, consider the polyphenols and other phytochemicals in herbs and spices a complement to your dietary intake rather than a primary source of them.

A research study has shown that adding a spice mixture (black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, garlic powder, ginger, oregano, paprika and rosemary.) to hamburger meat before cooking reduced malondialdehyde* concentrations in the meat, plasma, and urine after ingestion. Therefore this suggests that cooking hamburgers with a polyphenol-rich spice mixture could significantly decrease the concentration of malondialdehyde, which suggests potential health benefits for atherogenesis and carcinogenesis.

(My guess is that the seasoning, mayo, tomato, dill pickle, cheese, sesame & onion take a lot of the credit for what might otherwise be a rather bland meat bun!) 

*Malondialdehyde is the most frequently used biomarker of oxidative stress in many health problems such as cancer, psychiatry, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, or cardiovascular diseases.




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