Mint, nutmeg and garlic might make your meals taste good, but did you know fresh herbs and spices are about more than just flavour? We’re getting some expert insight into the many health benefits of some your favourite flavour-enhancers.“Herbs and spices are an incredible way to add flavour and zest to any dish, not to mention packed with a variety of health benefits,” says Carina Sohaili, founder of Vibrant Healthy Life and a board certified celebrity nutrition and health counselor. She shares some of her favourite herbs and spices that have been proven to increase post-meal satisfaction levels, curb junk food cravings and speed up your metabolism, among other benefits.
This bright green staple in Mexican cooking is a source of potassium, calcium, iron and magnesium. Sohaili explains that potassium helps flush the body of excess toxins and waste, while calcium is great for bone health, and magnesium is energizing. “Many people who suffer chronic fatigue have low levels of magnesium in their diet,” she says.
Use it: Cilantro is the perfect herb to mix into a summer salsa, top your tacos with it, or do as Sohaili does and make a ranch dip using plain Greek yogurt, cilantro and chives. She adds that Cilantro is also a great addition to a simple stir fry and can be thrown into a morning scramble.
Nutmeg isn’t just for baking–it has many more uses. “It is a fantastic nutrition-packed powerhouse,” Sohaili says. “Nutmeg naturally soothes your stomach, lowers anxiety levels and detoxifies the body.”
Use it: Sohaili suggests making a simple snack of organic canned pumpkin mixed with nutmeg and stevia. For a creamier version add Greek yogurt.
Sohaili describes garlic as a fat-burning, metabolism-boosting nutrition powerhouse. She explains that these flavour-packed bulbs are great for balancing blood sugar levels, which will reduce your energy highs and lows. “This is good because it will curb cravings for unhealthy foods." Sohaili notes that garlic also builds up your immune system, lowers high blood pressure, and helps dissolve blood clots.
Use it: You can use garlic in just about anything, from pasta sauces and marinades, to salad dressings and stir fry.
Feeling a cold coming on? Turmeric is a natural antiseptic, says Sohaili. It is also known to be a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, metabolism booster, and general all-round super-spice to have on hand for health.
Use it: Sohaili suggests mixing turmeric into almond milk and sweetening with stevia for a simple drink to beat a cold before it starts. Turmeric’s gentle bitter-peppery flavour also pairs well with cooked vegetables and lean meats. Try steamed cauliflower or broccoli with a splash of olive oil and turmeric.
In addition to adding a spicy kick to your meals, Sohaili says that cayenne pepper improves digestion and blood circulation, and increases energy levels. “This pepper creates heat in the digestive tract that helps your body store food more effectively, improving digestion and aiding in feelings of satisfaction,” she explains. Cayenne pepper also contains high amounts of vitamin C, vitamin A and essential minerals.
Use it: Use cayenne pepper in marinades, or add to roasted meats and vegetables.
Peppermint is known as a stomach-soothing herb. “Peppermint has been shown to reduce bloating, gas, constipation and abdominal cramping,” Sohaili says. She adds that the aroma of peppermint has also been shown to help with memory and focus.
Use it: Sip on some peppermint tea throughout the day, or, you can also chop mint to toss in salads and wraps, or use it to flavour plain water or lemonade.
This common spice is great for stabilizing energy levels, says Sohaili, because it does not spike your blood sugar. This makes it a good flavour-enhancer in place of sugar. She explains that cinnamon also helps with stomach cramps and nausea.
Use it: Get in the habit of adding cinnamon to your morning coffee, or mixing it with Greek yogurt. You can also add a few dashes to air popped popcorn for added no-calorie flavour.
Not just for using in pesto, or to flavour pasta and pizza, basil packs a healthy punch. Its oils and extract are said to have antibacterial and antioxidant properties, and the fresh leaves contain vitamin K, magnesium, and vitamin A
Use it: Blend up fresh basil with raw sunflower seeds, garlic and olive oil for a simple pesto, or toss chopped basil into soups, salads and sandwiches.
This popular herb is widely used as a garnish–and then tossed, but that means missing out on its many health benefits. Parsley is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, and is a good source of vitamin C and folic acid, and may even help reduce the risk of some cancers.
Use it: Use parsley in green smoothies, chop it into a salad, or blend it with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and white beans for a healthy spread or dip.
This aromatic herb is easy to grow at home and is known for its antiseptic properties, which can help ease cold and cough symptoms. Thyme is also used to aid digestion, and is an antioxidant.
Use it: Toss chopped fresh thyme into marinades, soups and sauces.