Sounds dramatic I know but this really is something that bugs me immensely because I know people who do this don’t realise how much nutrient goodness they are missing out on! With the nature of my work I see a lot of people giving advice to others for how to keep healthy eating cost effective and time efficient (mainly just general people of the public in Facebook forums) and one of the most common suggestions is to skip or leave out the herbs and spices listed in recipes!!
DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT, skip your herbs and spices people!!
You might only see them as garnish or a bit of extra flavour but there is so much more behind the reason I include them in my recipes! They have fantastic nutritional value and are like little concentrated sources of many of our nutrients.
Herbs and spices have been used for years as for culinary and medicinal purposes but only more recently has research started to reveal the amazing nutritional profiles these can bring to our diet and potential role they can play in a holistic approach to reducing our risk of disease.
Firstly let’s look at micronutrients. Without going through every single herb and spice and it’s nutritional profile, overall herbs and spices can be good sources of calcium, folate, potassium, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, phosphorus and magnesium. Many also have great anti inflammatory and anti-viral properties (hello turmeric, garlic, ginger) and can also help regulate blood sugar levels (cinnamon, fenugreek, linseeds). Granted, most of us only eat small portions of herbs and spices but I see this as a great reason to add more of them. If you don’t grow them yourself then you have likely bought a bunch of the herbs or a jar of spices and why let that go to waste when the more we have the more likely they are to contribute to our daily nutrient intake.
What I want to touch on most about herbs and spices though, is their polyphenol content. Polyphenols are referred to as phytonutrients, or a class of antioxidants that cannot be stored in the body but play an important role in maintaining our cells, fighting the effects of stress, improving our microbiome and much more. Diets rich in polyphenols have been proven to be protective against chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes as well as being protective against cancers. The exact science behind why polyphenols are so superior for our health is still being discovered but is thought to be due to their anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anticarcinogenic and neuroprotective properties.
Polyphenols also appear to have a two way relationship with our microbiome. On one hand, studies have shown that when polyphenols are consumed, majority of the compounds get passed into the large intestine where gut microbial activity breaks them down into metabolites which are believed to be responsible for the positive effects mentioned above, as opposed to the actual compounds that were ingested in the first place. Secondly, it is believed that both the original polyphenol compounds plus the metabolites can alter the population of gut flora present in our microbiome to favour beneficial bacteria and inhibit pathogenic bacteria. Now get this…
Imagine me as the body size I am now (fairly lean) and that I have a particular composition of gut bacteria that is reflective of that size. Then picture me if I had an extra 20kg on my body and was considered overweight, I would have a different make-up of bacteria present that was reflective of me at that larger size. Now if the overweight me, did an 8 week challenge and lost a heap of weight, my bacteria composition would start to shift to be more reflective of the composition associated with me at a lean body shape. However, the bacteria doesn’t just die off that quickly, in fact it can take up to 6 months for bacteria to actually die off, so in the meantime it sits there dormant. Now that dormant bacteria likely thrived off refined and junk food that was the culprit of the extra body weight in the first place, so if after my 8 week challenge I go back to eating those foods the bacteria are still there just waiting patiently until they can thrive on it again and hence the weight can be put back on, and very likely even more weight, which is what we refer to as ‘rebound weight gain’.
So how do you speed up the process of killing that dormant bacteria (other than keeping up your new nutrition habits for minimum 6 months)? Polyphenols! Remember how they can favour beneficial bacteria and inhibit others, well I’m talking about killing off that dormant bacteria. Fascinating right!?
So back to herbs and spices, they are one of our best sources of polyphenols so time to start adding more of them into your diet and please stop leaving them out when a recipes calls for them! If you find them expensive, try growing your own or learn how to store them properly so they last longer for you. I personally don’t have trouble with herbs going off because I put as much of them as I can into EVERYTHING! I also love microgreens which are the edible seedlings of the more mature herbs and recent studies (although more research is warranted) shows that these could be even more concentrated with nutrients and polyphenols than the mature herbs (if you’e ever tasted microgreens you would know what I am talking about as the flavour is definitely more concentrated!).
So it’s a win win really, you get more flavour, more nutrients, and herbs and spices always make your pics more insta worthy :P
Here’s some herbs and spices I highly recommend: Cloves, star anise, capers, curry powder, ginger, cumin, cinnamon, peppermint, oregano, sage, rosemary, thyme, basil, lemon verbena, parsley, marjoram.
P.S if you want to include other sources of polyphenols in your diet go for these ones: green tea, black tea, red wine, cacao powder, 85% or higher dark chocolate, berries, plum, cherry, prunes, black grapes, apples, pomegranate, peach, blood orange, lemon, apricot, pears, flaxseeds, celery seeds, chestnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, almonds, walnuts, black and green olives, extra virgin olive oil, globe artichoke, chicory, red onion, spinach, broccoli, curly endive, wholegrains, legumes.