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Written by Helen Chu, MS RDN, US Registered Dietitian
 
Herbs and spices add flavour to food, making your meals more delicious.

Just like fruits and vegetables, many herbs and spices contain phytonutrients that contain health-promoting properties –anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.  The anti-inflammatory effect helps to protect cells from damage and reduce risk of chronic diseases- such as diabetes, heart cancer and arthritis. Herbs spices are good sources of antioxidant which help to boost immune system.
 
Garlic -lowers cholesterol

Some studies shown that garlic may reduce LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, known as “bad cholesterol”, by 10-15%. Some small-scale studies found garlic effective in lowering blood pressure in people with hypertension.
When garlic is crushed or chopped the sulfur compound- allicin - is produced. The antioxidant activity of allicin boosts immune system to help fight diseases.

Tips for using garlic:     
Let chopped or crushed garlic sit for 10 minutes before use.  This will get the full benefit of allicin in cooking.  Add to spaghetti sauce or stir-fried dishes.

Cinnamon – lowers blood glucose
Cinnamon tends to give sweet taste to food. Cinnamon is commonly used in baked food. Recent research suggests that it may reduce blood sugar in those with diabetes.  It may also help lower blood cholesterol. 

Tips for using cinnamon: 
  • Sprinkle on yogurt, hot cereal, sweet potato, winter squash
  • Add to hot beverages- milk tea, Latte, Cappuccino, Chai tea  
  • For those who enjoy cooking sweets, add cinnamon to bread, cookies, pastries, puddings

Ginger- anti nausea

Ginger is commonly used to treat indigestion, nausea including morning sickness
Lab studies show that ginger has inflammatory properties and may play a role in preventing diseases like cancer

Tips for using ginger:
  • Cut in thin threads and add to stir fry dishes
  • Mince ginger and add to fried rice/noodles
  • Use ginger slices to prepare soup base for noodles 

Basil – improves immune function

Basil is fragrant herb used globally in all types of cuisines, such as Italian Thai.  Basil is a good source of vitamin A, C and antioxidant that help to improve immune function.
Tips for using basil:
  • Chop basil leaves and add to salad
  • Use basil leaves in whole pieces for pizza, soup base for noodles and hot pot

Turmeric – controls growth of cancer cells

Turmeric is a member of ginger family. Curcumin is the antioxidant compound in turmeric which gives curry a distinctive taste and offers inflammatory effects. The anti-inflammatory properties help to stimulate immune system and inhibit growth of cancer cells 

There is extensive research on the relationship between curcumin and cognitive functions, but findings from these studies have yielded mixed results. According to the British journal of Nutrition 2016, studies have not confirmed the anticipated benefit of curcumin on people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Tips for using turmeric:  
  • Curcumin cannot be absorbed easily, so add a dash of black pepper will help increase absorption
  • Use as seasoning in meat, vegetables.
  • Sprinkle on scrambled egg, tofu fry rice/noodles, noodle soup
  • Add to hot beverages, hot milk
 
Oral Supplements

Some herbs and spices are also sold as body supplements, but the dosage and safety are unknown. Herbal   supplements cannot replace medication. Most findings on health benefits come from animal studies. It is better to add either fresh or dried herbs and spices to your food to get benefits.

Since garlic supplement reduces blood clot, so if one is taking blood clotting medication warfarin (Coumadin), do consult your doctor before using garlic oral supplement.

Herbs and spices add a lot flavour to food, so can be used to reduce the use of salt, high sodium seasoning, sauces- BBQ, black bean sauce, hoisin. Experiment with various herbs and spices to come up with healthy and tasty meals.
 
Recipes:

Tomato Cucumber Basil salad


Ingredients:

  • 3-4 tomato cut in wedges
  • 1 small cucumber cut in slices
  • 1/3 cup fresh basil chopped
  • Mix 1 clove garlic minced ,1 tbsp olive oil 1 tbsp red wine vinegar  or lemon juice
  • ½ cup cooked chicken or sprinkle shredded cheese (optional)

Directions: toss together all the ingredients, serve cold


Garlic Herb marinade

Ingredients: 

  • 2-3 cloves garlic, crushed, chopped
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Lemon juice 
  • ½ cup chopped basil, cilantro,
  • Dash of salt, black pepper,
  • teaspoon turmeric                   

Directions:

  1. Mix all ingredients well, use this to marinade chicken, shrimp,
  2. Lemon juice help to tenderize the meat
  3. Instead of mayonnaise, creamy salad dressing, use this sauce on salads
  4. marinade for grilled vegetables
Baked Salmon

Ingredients:

  • Salmon fillets 2 (or 1 big piece)
  • Onion/shallot (finely chopped)  4 Tablespoon
  • Spices (dill and one other)   appropriate amount
  • Lemon 1
  • Olive oil  1 Tablespoon

Directions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 200℃.
  2. Rinse salmon fillets and wipe dry. Season with pinch of sea salt and black pepper.
  3. Wash skin of lemon and wipe dry.
  4. Chop onion/shallot finely. Add spices and mix with olive oil.
  5. Rub oil onto surface of aluminum foil (2 to 3 times the width of salmon). Place salmon on foil and put the onion mixture on top the salmon fillets. Grate lemon rind on top of salmon and onion mixture. Wrap salmon in foil and put into oven.
  6. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes. Open wrap and bake in oven for another 3 minutes to brown the onion mixture. Serve in aluminum wrap and with sliced onion.
Sole fillet with ginger and scallions

Ingredients:

  • Shredded scallion    3-4 pieces
  • Sole fillet           1 piece
  • Minced ginger       as appropriate
  • Vinegar            as appropriate
  • Soya sauce          as appropriate
  • Sugar              as appropriate
  • Black pepper       as appropriate
  • Salt           as appropriate
  • Cornstarch     as appropriate

Directions:

  1. Wash the sole fillet and dry with kitchen towels. Sprinkle salt and rub cornstarch right before cooking.
  2. Pour soya sauce and vinegar into a pan and cook with minced ginger and sugar for 2 minutes.
  3. Clean wok. Add oil and heat up in medium heat. Add sole fillet and fry one side until brown. Flip over and fry the other side until brown. Add sauce and cook quickly in high heat.
  4. Soak the shredded spring onions in water while frying fish.
  5. Sprinkle shredded spring onions to fish and cook for 1 more minute. Serve.