I thought I’d take a detour from the usual topics I’ve been exploring the past few months, instead bringing attention to a little known wellness recognition day: June 10, National Herb and Spices Day!
I know many people, baby boomers and older adults alike, have been doing more home cooking lately; by incorporating herbs and spices into your cuisine, you can add flavor, zing, and health benefits. And taking advantage of these wonderful seasonings is a great way to start cutting back on salt and sodium intake.
Herbs and spices are nature’s medicine cabinet, in use since ancient times. More recent research has confirmed that herbs contain compounds called polyphenols, powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents. These tiny miracle workers may help protect against conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Some herbs also contain vitamins A, C, and K, bestowing further health benefits.
According to the website harvesttohome.com, the best warm weather herbs include basil, chives, cilantro, dill, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, stevia, and thyme. They’re easy to grow, purchased in seed or seedling form at local nurseries and home improvement stores. Herbs grow best outdoors with at least four hours of full sun per day and because they can tolerate shallow soil and crowded roots, they’re perfect for containers. Many are drought-resistant and grow well in hot, dry weather.
While fresh herbs give foods a clean, springlike taste, they must be eaten within a few days of cutting. To enjoy herbs for a longer time, consider using the dried versions, which also spice up foods and add health benefits. The drying process actually concentrates the polyphenols and flavors, they’re easy to store, and they stay good for about a year.
Spices are important additions to your kitchen arsenal as well. Many of them stand out for health benefits, as well as flavor enhancement. For example, turmeric, the spice that gives curry its yellow color, contains curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. Cinnamon may help lower blood sugar in people with diabetes. Peppermint, ginger, cayenne pepper, and other spices are being studied in relation to various health benefits.
Most of us eat too much salt, and as a result we consume too much sodium, the true culprit in this twin-component chemical structure (salt = sodium + chloride). In fact, Americans eat about 50% more than the recommended amount of sodium. Sodium is a required nutrient, needed to control blood pressure and blood volume, as well as nerve and muscle action. But too much sodium in some people can lead to extra fluid in the body, high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.
Consuming homemade foods without added salt is a great start to a healthy eating pattern, as approximately 75% of our sodium comes from processed foods and restaurant meals.
And Easy Ways to Get Rid of the Ugly!
Here are 9 ways to get rid of salt while adding more herbs and spices (and health!) to your diet:
- In most recipes, you can easily decrease the salt by half. Unless baking, be bold and try using no salt at all.
- Encourage people to taste food before they add salt.
- Don’t put salt on the table unless requested.
- Add cilantro and parsley to green salads.
- Add dill to fish dishes.
- Bake chicken or turkey with a couple sprigs of rosemary.
- Use dried thyme to cooked vegetables.
- Sprinkle cinnamon on cold or hot cereal.
- Add spices to smoothies. Make an “apple pie” version with a green apple along with dashes of nutmeg and dried cloves.
And if you’re looking for the future of farming–growing herbs inside or outside with a minimum amount of space and water (and no soil at all!)–check out Tower Garden, a vertical, aeroponic growing system.