Better health may be only a dash and sprinkel 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 frutis, vegetables and some spice,s including garlic, the researchers say. Their findings appear in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
"Some herbs should be considered as regular vegetables," says Shiow Y. Wing lead researchers and a biochemist Wing lead researcher and a biochemist with the USDA's Beltsville Agricultural Research Centre in Beltsville.Using various chemical tests, Wang studied and compared the antioxidant activity of 39 commonly used herbs grown in the same location and conditions. The study, which did not involve animal or human subjects, included 27 culinary and 12 medicinal herbs.
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, says Wang.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.
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, the researcher suggests.
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, the researcher says.
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 avariety of sources including pesticides, smoking and exhaust fumes. Destroying free radicals may help fight cancer, heart disease and stroke, researchers believe.
Spices come from the bark, stem and seeds of plants. Both have been used for thousands of years to flavour 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, Wang says. She recently compared the antioxidant activity of herbs to a few select spices, including paprika, garlic, curry, chilli and black pepper. Herbs came out on top, she says.
Herbs can be consumed in a variety of ways. Some people prefer to dring herb extracts, which can be make 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 flavour to our favourite meats and vegetables.For example, the antioxidant activity of fresh garlic is 1.5 times higher than dry garlic powder, the researcher says.