Better health may be only a dash and sprinkle away: Researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture have found that herbs, in addition to making food tastier, are an abundant source of antioxidants and could provide potential anticancer benefits when supplementing a balanced diet. Herbs have higher antioxidant activity than fruits, vegetables and some spices, including garlic, the researchers say. Some herbs should be considered as regular vegetables. People should use more herbs for flavoring instead of salt and artificial chemicals.
In what may be good news for pizza lovers and Italian food connoisseurs everywhere, the herbs with the highest antioxidant activity belonged to the oregano family. In general, oregano had 3 to 20 times higher antioxidant activity than the other herbs studied. On a per gram fresh weight basis, oregano and other herbs ranked even higher in antioxidant activity than fruits and vegetables, which are known to be high in antioxidants. In comparison to the antioxidant activities of a few select fruits and vegetables, the potency of oregano ranks supreme: Oregano has 42 times more antioxidant activity than apples, 30 times more than potatoes, 12 times more than oranges and 4 times more than blueberries. For example, one tablespoon of fresh oregano contains the same antioxidant activity as one medium-sized apple, she says.
Adding a moderate amount of herbs may go a long way toward boosting the health value of a meal, especially as an alternative to salt and artificial additives. Even if you're not into oregano, other herbs also appear to pack a significant antioxidant punch. Among the more familiar, ranked in order, are dill, garden thyme, rosemary and peppermint.
The most active phenol component in some of the herbs with the highest antioxidant activity,
particularly oregano, was rosmarinic acid, a strong antioxidant. Antioxidants have become synonymous with good health. They are a class of compounds thought to prevent certain types of chemical damage caused by an excess of free radicals, charged molecules that are generated by a variety of sources including pesticides, smoking and exhaust fumes. Destroying free radicals may help fight cancer, heart disease and stroke, researchers believe.
Fruits and vegetables have long been viewed as a rich source of antioxidant compounds. Health officials have been urging consumers for years to eat more fruits and vegetables in order to gain the health benefits of antioxidants, but progress has been slow, according to researchers. Click Picture To purchase
More recently, researchers have begun to formally study the health benefits of herbs and spices. The two differ mainly by source. Herbs typically come from the leaves of plants. Spices come from the bark, stem and seeds of plants. Both have been used for thousands of years to flavor foods and treat illness. Now, herbs have emerged as a quick and easy way to get a concentrated source of antioxidants - without all the extra calories of whole foods.
Herbs can be consumed in a variety of ways. Some people prefer to drink herb extracts, which can be made by adding herbs to hot water to make potent antioxidant teas. Others use concentrated herbal oils available in some health food stories. Most of us prefer a little dash and sprinkle of the familiar leafy or powdered versions to add flavor to our favorite meats and vegetables.
Just as consuming too much of any food product can carry health risks, herbs should be used with moderation.
Whatever form they take, herbs are no substitute for a balanced diet. Pregnant women in particular should consult their physicians before taking herbal supplements.
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry