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Herbs Make Food Happy and Healthy

To some, adding flavor to a meal means attacking a dish with a salt shaker or drowning healthy food in heavy dressing. But it’s easy to add a whole spectrum of flavor without upping the fat by substituting herbs for unhealthy add-ons like salt, mayonnaise and butter.

The Science Behind Herbs

AICR’s expert report recommends limiting consumption of salty and salt-cured foods, keeping daily sodium intake less than 2,400 mg. By replacing salt with an array of herb choices, you can take steps to lower your daily sodium intake and align your lifestyle with this guideline.

An added benefit of using herbs is that many have demonstrated considerable cancer-fighting potential. Laboratory studies show that the phytochemicals and antioxidants present in herbs may help protect against a wide range of cancers by guarding the body’s cells from free-radical damage.

Although the amount of these herbs we use to flavor food may not be enough to bestow the same level of protection witnessed in the laboratory, these potent cancer-fighters are a welcome addition to any diet – especially if they help keep us from piling on the high-calorie dressings and sauces.


An ancient Iraqi burial has been found to contain evidence of eight medicinal plants, suggesting that herbs have been harnessed by civilization as far back as 60,000 years ago. Ancient Egyptians, Chinese and Mesopotamians passed on a vast knowledge of the medicinal properties of herbs.

Variety of HerbsIn the Middle Ages, serfs and townspeople used herbs to flavor their dull food. The quest for exotic herbs and spices fueled Columbus’ journey to the New World, when he tried to seek a faster, cheaper route to India in 1492. Meanwhile, Native Americans had been using wild herbs like ginseng and goldenseal all along.

Today we use herbs to freshen our homes, beautify our gardens and add flavor in our foods. Recent research suggests that you can add cancer prevention to that list. By replacing full-fat dressings and sodium with herbs and spices, you can make dishes that are pleasing to your palate and your health.

How To

All herbs are not equal – different varieties complement different dishes. Try some of these suggestions to get started adding flavor, not fat:

  • Basil – Excellent seasoning for tomatoes, eggplant and green salads, it’s also rich with eugenol and geraniol, two phytochemicals.
  • Oregano – With one of the highest concentrations of phytochemicals (quercetin and carnosol), oregano has an intense, almost licorice-like taste. A staple of many Italian dishes, it’s a great complement to tomato sauces, mushrooms, beets and green beans.
  • Parsley – Rich in flavanoids, parsley works well in all kinds of dishes, from fish and chicken to vegetables, soups and salads.
  • Rosemary – The strong piney scent and flavor make it an excellent addition to fish, salad dressings and bread. Plus, research has shown that this herb, with over twenty antioxidants, may help prevent inflammation that is linked to cancer development and heart disease.
  • Sage – This slightly smoky herb contains carnosol, linalool and ursolic acid. It can be used as a rub on poultry or as a seasoning in dressings, sauces and breads.
  • Thyme – Sweeter than oregano or parsley, thyme has a minty, tea-like flavor. Full of the phytochemical, thymol, it goes well with roasted vegetables, delicate sauces and lighter dishes.

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