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.
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.
In general, fresh herbs and spices are
healthier and contain higher antioxidant levels compared to
their processed counterparts. For example, the antioxidant
activity of fresh garlic is 1.5 times higher than dry garlic
Just as consuming too much of any food
product can carry health risks, herbs should be used with
Whatever form they take, herbs
are no substitute for a balanced diet. Pregnant
women in particular should consult their physicians before
taking herbal supplements.
of Agricultural and Food Chemistry November 2001