10 nutritious herbs you should add to your diet now

Rosemary Black, for MDLinx | June 04, 2019

Those leafy sprigs of parsley that garnish your dinner, the mint sprigs in your drink, and those basil strips topping your salad contribute more than color and flavor. They're also rich sources of valuable nutrients.

"Many herbs show promise for preventing and fighting diseases," explained Christen Cooper, EdD, RDN, founding director, Coordinated MS in Nutrition and Dietetics, College of Health Professions, Pace University, Pleasantville, NY, in an exclusive interview with MDLinx. "This is why registered dietitians encourage people to replace excessive sugar and salt with fresh herbs when trying to boost the flavor in dishes."

Fresh herbs contain a variety of antioxidants, according to Wesley McWhorter, MS, RD, LD, chef and dietitian, School of Public Health, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), Houston, TX. "Like dark leafy greens, the green color of fresh herbs indicates that they have similar nutrients," he said. "And they have the extra benefit of allowing you to reduce salt and sugar in your diet because they add the extra flavor we crave."

To that end, let's take a closer look at the health benefits of 10 herbs worth adding to your repertoire:

Advertisement

Parsley

Touted for its natural diuretic properties, parsley is useful in treating fluid retention and edema, noted Sharon Zarabi, RD, CDN, CPT, bariatric program director, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City, NY. "Parsley is known to increase urine output without affecting electrolytes such as sodium and potassium," she said. "It's also known to freshen breath."

Added Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and the author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table: "Parsley provides vitamin C, and it has anti-inflammatory properties."

Peppermint

Used for centuries to treat digestive issues like gas, bloating, and indigestion, peppermint is also good for treating aches and pains, according to Zarabi. "The main component of peppermint is menthol, which has a relaxation effect on gastrointestinal tissue and topically performs as an anesthetic that helps relieve sore muscles and body aches," she explained.

Oregano

Commonly used in Mexican and Mediterranean dishes, oregano contains phytochemicals and vitamin E. "It is a most impressive herb to fight infection," Zarabi noted. "Traditional healers touted its benefits with respect to treating respiratory issues such as cough, cold, flu and bronchitis."

Basil

Often found in Italian dishes, basil has cholesterol-lowering benefits, is high in antioxidants, and has antimicrobial benefits, explained Zarabi.

Basil also contains rientin and viceninare, which are water-soluble flavonoids that may protect white blood cells. In addition, the powerful antioxidants found in basil have been shown to help fight damage caused by free radicals. As if this weren't enough, basil also contains phytochemicals, which may prevent cancer.

Thyme

High in vitamin C, thyme is also a good source of vitamin A and manganese.

According to Malina Malkani, MS, RDN, CDN, media spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and creator, Wholitarian Lifestyle: "Thyme also contains many flavonoids, which increase its antioxidant capacity. Also, researchers have suggested that the antimicrobial components of thyme may help prevent food spoilage and protect against microbial contamination."

Dill

Part of the same family as fennel, cumin, and bay leaves, dill contributes a small amount of vitamins A and C. "Like many other herbs, dill contains high amounts of antioxidants that are known to reduce the risk of heart disease and damaging free radicals," Zarabi said.

Chamomile

Used as a therapeutic since ancient times, chamomile is widely known for its calming effects. "We often see it boiled in tea bags," Zarabi said. "Chamomile is linked to better sleep, and it can enhance tranquility. It's most often used to reduce anxiety and depression, and it can also be used to soothe an upset stomach."

Sage

Known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, sage contains flavonoids, phenolic acids and oxygen-handling enzymes. "This combination may help prevent oxygen-based cell damage," Malkani noted.

Cilantro

Packed with antioxidants, cilantro is a good source of vitamins A, C, K and E, and may help fight infections and reduce inflammation, Malkani explained. Often used in Southwestern and Mexican cuisine, cilantro is also delicious in Indian dishes, added McWhorter.

Rosemary

A good source of calcium, iron and vitamin B6, rosemary contains compounds that offer both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. "These antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits may support a wide range of health benefits that include improved digestion and increased circulation," Malkani stated.

If you feel inspired to eat more herbs, you'll be glad to hear that adding them to your meals is easier than you might think. Many of them are hardy enough to thrive in pots on a sunny windowsill.

If you buy them in a store or farmer's market, try to choose fresh herbs that have bright, perky leaves—avoiding any that look wilted—to get the most nutritional value from them. Rinse the herbs in cold water and allow to dry. Then, wrap them in a damp paper towel to keep them fresh, and store them in a resealable bag in the refrigerator.

For tips on how to incorporate them into your diet, Zarabi recommends adding soft, tender herbs at the end of cooking or preparing your meal. "Cut them gently and not too thin as the residue will be left on the cutting board and there will be less flavor for garnish," she advised. When you prepare soft herbs, chop them by hand rather than in a food processor to avoid bruising.

So, remember that these wonderful little plants do more than just give your food a big boost of flavor. They are packed with nutrients, antioxidants, and other properties that may give your health a boost as well, and improve your body's ability to prevent and fight off disease.

Advertisement