Prospect Hill Retirement Village

Herbs & spices – integral to your daily diet

Posted by Karen Inge | Healthy Eating | No Comments

Who would have thought a mere sprig of oregano could pack a powerful biological punch, but a review released in the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) and an accompanying Position Paper from US and Australian health experts, shows culinary herbs and spices contain high concentrations of antioxidants and phytonutrients and may provide long term health benefits that even outweigh their short term taste sensations.

While further research is required, particularly in terms of human clinical trials, there is an extensive library of in vitro and animal based research showing herbs and spices aid in the prevention of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease (some studies show a reduction in cholesterol through consumption of garlic MJA 20-32the high antioxidant level in some herbs have the potential to inhibit the oxidisation of LDL cholesterol MJA 35-41)and cancer through the potent antioxidant effects of several herbs (tumeric, lemongrass, basil, parsley, rosemary and mint).MJA 64-67

Herbs and spices also appear to work to maintain our health by supporting the immune system, aiding digestion and managing nausea. 2 Their anti-inflammatory properties also seem to support bone and joint health and relieve pain. MJA 103-112

Due to their high level of antioxidants and phytonutrients, early evidence also suggests that herbs and spices act synergistically to enhance the health-related properties of other foods and to multiply the antioxidant value of a meal.3   The process has been tagged “food bundling”.

So compelling is the evidence, that leading Australian and American nutrition and health experts say “the forgotten foods” should be recognized as a food group and included in dietary guidelines and food models. 4

“Research now shows that herbs and spices pack a powerful biological punch.  Not only are they high in phytonutrients including antioxidants, they are also rich in vitamins and minerals and other bioactive components,” said editor of the MJA Supplement, Professor Linda Tapsell of the National Centre of Excellence in Functional Foods (NCEFF). (Professor Tapsell (right) is pictured with Karen Inge at the launch of the MJA Supplement.)

“Herbs and spices have two great ‘selling points’.  Firstly, they appear to extensively support nutritional health and secondly, they increase the nutritional quality and attractiveness of the daily diet through their variety, flavour, colour and aroma.   Learn to use herbs and spices daily for taste and flavour and chances are your consumption of fat, salt and sugar will dramatically drop.”

While it has been long known that antioxidants are abundant in fruits and vegetables, researchers have recently identified high concentrations of antioxidants in herbs and spices.

The results show that the antioxidant capacity of herbs and spices compares very favourably with that of vegetables and fruits. 2

And while a spoonful of herbs or a smattering of spice is much smaller in weight than a serve of berries 5, the intense concentrations of antioxidant in herbs and spices ensure their addition to a meal provides a substantial antioxidant boost.

Through their aromatic oils, herbs and spices deliver intense flavours and food satisfaction.  Herbs and spices can replace fat, sugar and salt in our food, make vegetables and bland foods like grains and legumes tastier, and assist in weight management by making low fat food more appetizing.

They enrich our diet by increasing the variety of foods we consume (a recommended target is 20-30 foods per day), by upping the colours in our meals to make them more nutritious, and by multiplying the antioxidant score of meals via “food bundling”.1 Their antimicrobial properties can reduce the risk of bacteria in food. 6

“For centuries, herbs and spices have underpinned traditional medicine but only now is science  realising the potential health benefits of these miniature plant foods,” said leading Australian dietitian Karen Inge who also worked on the herb and spice research. “Even Hippocrates had a repertoire of 300 remedies involving herbs and spices, and the Chinese, Indians and Indigenous Australians have been using herbs and spices for both culinary and medicinal uses for centuries.

“Research today shows populations that follow a traditional Mediterranean diet high in antioxidant rich plant foods, including garlic and herbs, have a reduced incidence of chronic illnesses such as heart disease and cancer.

“The message is becoming increasingly clear, include herbs and spices in your daily diet.  They can be conveniently added to day to day cooking, are inexpensive, are readily available and always in season, and by their essence, highly palatable and easily consumed.

“We’re not asking people to drink two litres of a concoction, search for an expensive out of season fruit or consume a handful of supplements.   Herbs and spices are so concentrated in phytonutrients including antioxidants, we are simply saying increase your daily consumption and be creative – throw three teaspoons of herbs into your stir fry rather than one, whip some garlic into your mashed potato, spice up your scrambled eggs with some oregano and don’t forget the ginger in your juice.”

The MJA supplement entitled “The Health Benefits of Herbs & Spices – the past, the present and the future” follows a peer-reviewed summary of international research, with the published supplement focusing on the benefits of culinary herbs and spices in targeted health areas.

Directed by National Centre of Excellence in Functional Foods (NCEFF) and made possible via an educational grant from Gourmet Garden, the research was headed by NCEFF director Professor Linda Tapsell and conducted by an Australian panel of medical and health experts*.

The Position Paper, entitled “Herbs & Spices – An Integral Part of the Daily Diet” is an Australian-US collaboration led by nutrition scientist, Dr Katrine Baghurst, and expressed the shared views of Americans Dr Clare Hasler and Susan Bowerman from the University of California and from Australia – Dr Paul Nestel from the Baker Heart Research Institute, Professor Tapsell, and leading dietitians Karen Inge and Virginia Fazio.   The project was made possible via an education grant from Gourmet Garden.

Please visit my website for more tips on healthy eating www.kareninge.com

References for herbs & spices – integral to your daily diet

MJA designates all references referring to the Medical Journal of Australia –  “The Health Benefits of Herbs & Spices – the past, the present and the future”  (Supplement Vol 185 number 4 – 21 August 2006)

For full transcripts of papers www.healthyherbs.com; www.gourmetgarden.com

Further References

  1. Medical Journal of Australia –  “The Health Benefits of Herbs & Spices – the past, the present and the future”  (Supplement Vol 185 number 4 – 21 August 2006)
  2. Position Paper – August 2006 – Herbs & Spices An Integral Part of the Daily Diet:  Baghurst K; Tapsell L; Nestel P; Inge K; Fazio V; Hasler C; Bowerman S
  3. Ninfali P; Mea G; Giorgini S; Rocchi M; Bacchiocca.  Antioxidant capacity of vegetables, spices and dressings relevant to nutrition B J Nutr 2005; 93: 257-66
  4. Position Paper – August 2006 – Herbs & Spices An Integral Part of the Daily Diet:  Baghurst K; Tapsell L; Nestel P; Inge K; Fazio V; Hasler C; Bowerman S – Figure 1 and point 6.
  5. Position Paper – August 2006 – Herbs & Spices An Integral Part of the Daily Diet:  Baghurst K; Tapsell L; Nestel P; Inge K; Fazio V; Hasler C; Bowerman S – Table 1a and 1b
  6. Position Paper – August 2006 – Herbs & Spices An Integral Part of the Daily Diet:  Baghurst K; Tapsell L; Nestel P; Inge K; Fazio V; Hasler C; Bowerman S – Reference 66, 70 ,72

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