Adding Herbs for a Healthier Life

Guest post from ‘Operation Transformation’ dietician Aoife Hearne.

Talk to anyone about foods containing health benefits and no doubt they will give you a list as long as your arm with foods that are packed with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.   The humble herb is often forgotten about as a powerful addition to our meals and in fact something that can have a positive impact on our health.

A couple of years back, I took my first step into growing my own vegetables, when I started a herb garden.  I have to be honest, I did get help from a local gardener, but I must say it has been such a great addition to our garden.  I love to use herbs in cooking as they add such great flavour to meals and having them literally in ‘my own back yard’ means I use them more frequently and the result is great tasting meals and added health benefits for our family meals! And more recently, as my little ones get older, I just love when they come out to the herb garden and help me pick herbs for the dinner, knowing that exposing them to the use of herbs at a young age will increase the chance they will use them as they get older.

Here’s a snapshot of the power-adding herbs can have on your health.

Garlic: Since 1993, 44% of clinical trials have indicated a reduction in total cholesterol, and the most profound effect has been observed in garlic’s ability to reduce the ability of platelets to aggregate.(1) . Add to homemade soups, salad dressings and sauces, why not add roasted garlic to mashed potatoes instead of butter?

Oregano: In one study, oregano had the highest antioxidant activity among 27 culinary herbs and 12 medicinal herbs tested, ranking even higher than fruits and vegetables. (2) Why not add to homemade soups, salad dressings and sauces. Sprinkle on top of homemade pizza or scrambled eggs to more flavour and reduce the need for salt!

Basil: This herb can help reduce inflammation in addition to protection against carcinogen-induced cancers. The volatile oils found in basil mini the action of over the counter anti-inflammatory medications. (3) When cooking add chopped basil tomato-based sauces Why not add to sandwiches and salads for an added flavour kick?

Thyme: Can help reduce coughing in people with bronchitis or common colds (4). This is great to use on top of cooked vegetables or homemade soups and reduce the need for salt and butter!

Rosemary: Small early studies indicate that rosemary may help memory function (5). Why not add to salads or mashed potatoes and omelettes?

Mint: Has been shown to have a positive impact on IBS patients. Herbal teas including mint tea advised as fine line treatment for IBS patients in NICE guidelines for IBS (6). Why not add to tea, water and other fluids for a change? It’s also great to add to salads and fruit salads!

Parsley: Contains myricetin that an help with blood sugar control (7). Why not add to salads, sandwiches or as a garnish with meals!

Aoife Hearne is a registered dietitian and a member of the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute, the professional body for dietitians in Ireland.