Myth-buster: ‘Healthy’ doesn’t need to mean bland or boring. I’ve long since learned to cook smarter, and have found that fresh herbs and spices are bursting with flavour and can utterly transform a dish on a super lean calorie budget, whilst possessing a wealth of health benefits such as disease-fighting antioxidants, and protection against chronic conditions (e.g. cancers, diabetes, and heart disease). They’re packed with vitamins and minerals and in the quantities you’ll use for a dish, are super low in calories. So rather than reaching for a creamy sauce to add easy taste (often laden with a lot of the wrong fats and way too much simple sugar) here’s my list of some of the surprising superpowers found within spices and herbs alone!
The post is broken down into 4 sections: 1) Spices, 2) Herbs, 3) Other good stuff, and then 4) the recipes you might like to try…
PART 1) THE SPICES
Thanks to the global buying power of todays supermarkets, there’s an endless parade colourful and exciting spices which are readily available to us all at very reasonable prices. I’ve listed a few common and (slightly more) adventurous ones below.
a) CHILLI POWDER:
Such a great way to trick your metabolism. Chili contains the chemical ‘capsaicin’, which gives it the heat and potency, and which also stimulates a natural process whereby other food you eat is converted more readily into heat. This process is known as thermogenesis, meaning you burn up calories immediately rather than storing them. So, spicing up a meal with chilli will significantly increase the pace of thermogenesis. More good news – it often boosts the amount of fat, rather than carbohydrate, that’s burned in the process too, AND it can help to reduce appetite. So it’s a natural dieting agent that tastes good!
With its deep sunshine-yellow hue, it’s amongst the world’s most costly spices by weight. Luckily you’ll only need a dusting of it to imbue your dish with that rich flavour. Saffron’s key benefit lies in the high manganese content, which is a fantastic mineral for everyday skin health. It helps stimulate collagen production, triggers antioxidant release in skins cells, and helps in the protection against oxygen-related & UV damage. All of which makes this spicy mineral important for everyday skin health
For some reason, it always reminds me of Christmas; I like to have a tiny sprinkle of it on my coffee, as then I feel festive all year round! Despite the intensity of flavour that lends itself really well to many desserts, it’s rich in many essential minerals too – manganese, iron, calcium, and fiber being the main ones. It also has fantastic healing properties which come from the essential oils found in its bark called cinnamaldehyde, cinnamyl acetate, and cinnamyl alcohol. P.s make sure to buy it without any added sugar!
Curry leaves are an exceptional source of iron and folic acid. Folic acid helps the body absorb iron, since the leaves are rich in both this is a great way to get some iron into the bloodstream, stat!
PART 2) THE FRESH HERBS
This classic, majestic green leaf must be a pseudo-hallucinogen as it gets me daydreaming of buffalo mozzarella, vine-ripened tomatoes and a warm sea breeze… sigh! That highly evocative basil leaf contain essential oils such as eugenol and citronella which have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. It’s also a fabulous source of Vitamin K which is great for bone strengthening, assisting the mineralization process in bones. There are so many varieties of this leaf too, and each and every one offers a uniquely powerful scent, just waiting to lend flavour to your dishes!
It’s a great source of potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, and magnesium. There’s also something called ‘myricetin’ which is a flavonol known to have preventative effects on forms of skin cancer. Foods such as sweet potato, cranberries and blackberries are some of the foods that contain the highest concentrations of myricetin, but parsley is right up there with them too.
Fantastic for the skin as it contains antiseptic, anti-fungal and antioxidant properties which can help clear skin disorders (eczema, fungal infections & dryness).
Add ginger to pretty much any green juice and it’s a massive flavour and sensation boost! It boasts anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and digestion-aiding properties, as well as a mean kick!
This is my all time favourite flavour. I adore lemon grass – it’s so refreshing yet sweet and smells heavenly! It’s bursting with beneficial ‘essential oils’ (anti-irritant, anti-fungal & antiseptic properties), as well as vitamins and minerals (such as vitral, lemonal, and aldehyde responsible for that strong lemony scent, but which also has strong anti-microbial properties). It contains a mini ’99 calories per 100 g’ and not a trace of cholesterol! The stem and leaves are high in folic acid (19% of RDA) which is important in cell division & repair. Plus it’s also rich in vitamins B-5, B-6, and B-1 (essential for the body to repair). There’s also a decent amount of anti-oxidant vitamin-C and vitamin-A (immune and sight-boosting respectively), and finally lemon grass has plenty of bonus minerals like potassium, zinc, calcium, iron, manganese, copper, and magnesium. The body needs these – lemongrass has them!
PART 3) THE REST
Full of immune-boosting and health-promoting properties; it has anti-bacterial and anti-carcinogenic properties, whilst helping to reduce (bad) LDL cholesterol levels. These Jalepeno peppers are pretty fiery (2500 on the Scoville scale of ‘can you handle the heat?’), and are more than enough to raise your metabolism a few notches too! It’s rich in vitamin-C (100g chilli = c.240% of RDA) which is immune boosting and fights free radicals from the body. There’s a good amount of minerals such as potassium, manganese, iron, and magnesium too, all of which will help regulate the blood pressure. It also provides your body with its required dose of B-complex vitamins such as niacin, pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), riboflavin and thiamin (vitamin B-1).
Everyone knows that it fights off pesky vampires, but were you aware that it can also lower cholesterol and blood pressure? It’s also a great source of potassium (regulates blood pressure / oxygenation & heartbeat pace, lubricates joints), iron (supports red blood cell formation), calcium (promotes healthy bones), magnesium (aids nervous-system functions, body temperature regulation, detoxification, energy production, and hormone balancing) manganese (an antioxidant enzyme), zinc (cell regeneration, digestion-aiding, with anti-cancerous properties), and selenium (heart-healthy, antioxidant enzyme). Somewhere inside it, there’s an “active” compound called ‘allicin’ which has been shown to reduce cholesterol, alleviate high blood pressure and help decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke.
A classic, but a great source of immune-boosting vitamin C, dietary fibre vitamin B6, Folate and potassium. A classic for a reason.
I have it first thing every morning with warm water. But it’s just delicious to drizzle on salads, in your tea, or over your fish or chicken! The citrus flavour freshens any dish. We all tend to reach for the lemon and honey when we’re ill – and rightly so, as these little citric bombs are rich in vitamin C, vitamin B, phosphorous. They also contain flavonoids, which profess antioxidants with cancer-fighting properties. Drink up!
e) HIMALAYAN PINK SALT:
Whilst I’d advise anyone to materially reduce the amount sodium in their diet, where possible, opt for pink salt (which comes from a huge salt mine in Pakistan, unlike the name would suggest!). Unlike what you find on your table, it’s not processed and chemically purified; instead, the pink tint is a product of the iron content. It’s rich in iodine. It’s chocca-block full of minerals including sulphate, magnesium, calcium, potassium, bromide, borate, strontium, and bicarbonate…
PART 4) THE PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS ???
1) My Moroccan Inspired Salad (pictured below)
2) My Thai Fishcakes (pictured below)
3) My Chilli Con Quorne (pictured below)
4) My Asian Prawn Broth (pictured below)
5) My Lentil & Chilli Soup (pictured below)
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