The fall is associated with warm smell of cinnamon apples, the rich aroma of mulled ciders, and pumpkin-spice everything. Healthy herbs and spices like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger are common in dishes that are popular during the fall season. These autumn herbs aren’t just good for your cooking, but may actually improve your health too.
For centuries, herbs have played an important role in preserving and flavoring food, and promoting a healthy diet. However, nutrition research is just now uncovering the specific scientific explanations behind these benefits seen with these healthy seasonings.
Herbs and spices both come from plants. In general, herbs are usually fresh leaves of the plant (e.g. basil and mint) and spices, typically dried, come from any other part of the plant including the seed (e.g. cumin), bark (e.g. cinnamon), root (e.g. ginger), berry (e.g. peppercorn) or flower (e.g. saffron). Some plants, like coriander for example, can produce herbs (fresh leaves, known commonly as cilantro) and spices (dried seeds).
Antioxidants are compounds that neutralize free radicals produced in the body. These free radicals have been linked to cellular damage, aging, and other diseases. Research has found that many culinary herbs (both fresh and dried) have antioxidants that may help protect against some of the deadliest chronic conditions, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and stroke.
Pound for pound, herbs have a higher antioxidant capacity than many fruits and vegetables. While small in portion size, a spoonful of herbs or a few pinches of spice can provide a substantial serving of antioxidants. For example one teaspoon of oregano contains the same antioxidant capacity as one medium sized apple. In general, fresh herbs and spices contain higher levels of antioxidants than those that have been processed.
Herbs and spices also have antimicrobial properties that can reduce the risk of food borne illness. Spices have been used for generations to preserve fresh foods and prevent spoilage. Many of these same spices and herbs are thought to have antimicrobial properties when ingested. A well-known example is garlic. Historically, garlic was applied to wounds to prevent infection and gangrene. Now, people take it to help prevent heart disease and boost the immune system.
Cooking with herbs and spices can play a role in weight control while increasing the attractiveness of food color, flavor, aroma and taste. The addition of healthy seasonings to vegetables and neutral foods like legumes and grains makes them more appetizing, thus encouraging you to consume them more often.
Using healthy seasonings in meal preparation may lead to a drop in the consumption of fat and salt. Studies have shown incorporating herbs and spices into low fat and low sodium meals improve their taste. Removing 1 tbsp. of fat from a meal can even reduce the caloric content of a food by up to 100 calories. Eating tastier meals are more fulfilling than bland ones. When you are not satisfied, there is a greater chance you will overeat.
The fall is a great time to bring in new spices and flavors in to your food. In addition to the flavors used in the early fall (think cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves), you can also experiment with the flavors associated with Thanksgiving; sage, rosemary, and thyme are particularly prevalent in fall cooking. Many of these seasonings are especially flavorful with fruits, vegetables and lean proteins, making them a great option to shake up your meals and snacks.
This table gives a few examples of common autumn herbs and the foods that they pair well with.
Some common herb/food pairings
|Basil||Most vegetables, anything with tomatoes|
|Chives||Eggs, soups, fish, potatoes|
|Cilantro||Asian, Mexican and Indian dishes|
|Dill||Seafood, eggs, soups, sauces, cucumbers|
|Mint||Lamb, fruits, teas, curries|
|Oregano||Beef, lamb, beans, sauces,|
|Parsley||Salads, vegetables, sauces|
|Rosemary||Poultry, lamb, fish, potatoes,|
|Sage||Poultry, beans, squash, Brussels sprouts|
|Tarragon||Vinegars, eggs, seafood, poultry|
|Thyme||Stews, eggs, seafood, poultry|
Healthy herbs and spices can be easily added to your daily recipes, are inexpensive and readily available. Many herbs can even be easily grown right in your kitchen window. By their very essence they are highly palatable and easily consumed. Fresh herbs are best added to foods toward the end of the cooking process to preserve their flavor.
Here are some tips for maximizing the flavor of your healthy seasonings:
Food and flavor variety is very important when trying to lose or maintain your weight. People have a tendency to associate healthy or “diet” food with being boring or bland. Using these fall seasonings will make your weight loss goals easier than ever to reach.