5 Best Herbs to Improve Flavor & Nutritional Profile of Your Meal

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All greens are great. They are low in calories, carbohydrates, and fat as well as high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and free-radical scavenging antioxidant. Unfortunately, the leafy greens like spinach, kale, and lettuce receive most of the credit and attention.

Let’s talk herbs. No, I’m not referring to the one that you can smoke that’s quickly gaining legality across the United States. I’m talking about the leafy greens without mind-altering properties commonly used in cooking.

Related: 6 Healthy Spices For Tasty Meal Prep and Improved Health

Herbs result from harvesting the leaves of a variety of plants. These herbs, offered in fresh, dried, and oil forms, add a hefty dose flavor, complexity, and nutrition to at least one dish in every cuisine.

Herbs are packed with aroma and if incorporated in to a dish properly, improve the presentation, taste, and smell of the dish. It’s worth noting that a little herb goes a long way; too much of a good thing can ruin, rather than raise the quality of the meal. Depending on the herb, expect to use a few teaspoons or a tablespoon if it’s dried form or no more than half a cup if it’s fresh.

The five spices discussed in this article offer numerous health benefits and virtually zero calories. For each spice, we will examine the benefits, nutrition profile, and popular recipes incorporating the spice.

If you can’t stand the taste or smell of one of the spices discussed in the article, then head over to the Tiger Fitness web store to find easy-to-swallow versions in capsule, powder, and tablet forms.

5 Best Herbs For Flavor and Nutrition

#1 – Oregano

Oregano achieved its fame through the ability to add distinct flavor and aroma to Italian cuisine. While this herb may not look particularly special, it’s packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Oregano results from the harvesting of the leaves from the plant Origanum vulgare L. After harvesting the leaves are sold fresh, dried, coarsely ground, finely ground, or boiled down to extract the essential oils.

Oregano has exceptional antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties. [1] Including oregano in your diet can fight inflammation by scavenging for free radicals and combat the bacteria and microbes that causing illness.

One tablespoon (3 grams) of dried oregano leaves contain 8 calories, 0.27 grams of protein, 0.13 grams of fat, 2.07 grams of carbohydrates, and 1.3 grams of fiber. [2] Fiber accounts for over 43% of its dry weight making oregano a great low-carbohydrate flavoring agent.

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Three grams of oregano also contains 21% of the vitamin K, 8% of the manganese, 6% of the iron, and 5% of the calcium and fiber recommended you consume daily. [3] Oregano is one of the most nutrient-packed herbs on the planet.

The pre-workout MHP Reckless contains oregano concentrate as part of a 50mg Spectra™ blend formulated to improve muscle pumps intra-workout. You can also buy oregano leaf and oregano oil as a standalone ingredient in capsule form a reputable manufacturer like NOW Foods or Nature’s Way.

I sprinkle oregano on just about every Italian dish I cook and eat but I don’t expect you to do so. I do however, stand by the notion that oregano is absolutely and unequivocally mandatory in any and every tomato-based sauce. A few of my other favorite dishes with oregano include oregano-lemon chicken, baked tomatoes oregano, and avocado feta salad.

#2 – Rosemary

Rosemary results from harvesting the needle-like leaves of the plant Rosmarinus officinalis L. Preliminary research indicates that rosemary may help to fight cancer and obesity in human cells and animals.

A meta-analysis of the active compounds found in rosemary like carnosic acid, carnosol, ursolic acid, and rosmarinic acid, found that these compounds can suppress and prevent the growth of tumors. [4] A study examining the intake of rosemary leaf extract by mice eating a high fat diet found that rosemary can decrease weight and fat mass gain while also increasing the amount of fat excreted through feces. More research is needed to determine if these benefits translate to humans.

One tablespoon (3.3 grams) of dried rosemary contains 11 calories, 0.16 grams of protein, 0.5 grams of fat, 2.11 grams of carbohydrates, and 1.4 grams of fiber. [5] You may be noticing a trend that most herbs are very low and carbohydrates and high in fiber.

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Rosemary supports this trend at fiber comprises over 42% of its dry weight. One tablespoon of rosemary also contains 4% of the calcium recommended you consume daily. Rosemary may have fewer vitamins and minerals than oregano but it’s a still powerhouse herb with numerous health benefits.

A handful of designed to increase muscle and decrease fat mass contain ursolic acid from rosemary. Examples include E-Harm Ursobolic, Twinlab Pro Series Test Fuel, Labrada Ursolic Acid, and NLA For Her Shred Her. Some digestive and colon health supplements like Futurebiotics Colon Green contain rosemary leaf.

Rosemary is a very aromatic herb so a little goes a long way. For those that prefer poultry, I recommend rosemary ranch chicken kabobs. If you are a carboholic then you must try this version of focaccia bread. If you want a warm vegetarian friendly recipe incorporating rosemary, then you must try split pea soup with rosemary.

#3 – Basil

The basil plant, Ocimum basilicum L., is a member of the mint family and is most commonly used in Italian and Southeast Asian cuisines. If you walk in to your grocery store you may encounter sweet basil, Thai basil, and/or holy basil. Italian dishes most commonly use sweet basil whereas supplements typically contain holy basil.

Basil exhibits strong anti-cancer properties in both human cells and mice. [6] Holy basil has a growing body of research supporting its ability to protect the brain, relieve stress, and improve cognitive performance. [7] Most research on basil involves consuming an extract rather than the fresh or dried leaves.

One tablespoon (2.1 grams) of dried basil leaves contains just 5 calories, 0.48 grams of protein, 0.09 grams of fat, 1 gram of carbohydrates, and 0.8 grams of fiber. [8] Basil is slightly less fiber-rich than rosemary and oregano, comprising only about 38% of its dry weight.

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One-half cup of fresh chopped basil provides 98% of the vitamin K, 12% of the manganese, 9% of the copper, and 6% of the vitamin A recommended you consume daily. [9] Consuming basil alongside a fat source will improve the absorption of fat-soluble vitamin K.

The pre-workout MHP Reckless contains basil concentrate as part of a 50mg Spectra™ blend formulated to improve muscle pumps intra-workout. The greens powder Supplement RX Greens includes basil as part of its 6,000mg Daily Greens proprietary blend. Himalaya Herbal Healthcare GlucoCare contains basil as part of a 980mg proprietary blend formulated to help control blood sugar.

My favorite basil-inspired recipe is spinach basil pesto. For a high quality post-workout carbohydrate-rich meal try orzo with parmesan basil. If you love shrimp and have a craving for seafood then try this basil shrimp dish. Make a basil vinaigrette dressing that you can drizzle on your salads and use as a marinade for chicken.

#4 – Cilantro

Cilantro results from harvesting the leaves of the plant Coriandrum sativum L. This plant also produces coriander seeds. Cilantro complements citrus fruits and acidic fruits like tomatoes. A cilantro leaf extract normalized blood sugar and decreased high insulin levels in obese rats with high blood sugar and high levels of fat in the blood. [10]

The active ingredients in cilantro can also fight the growth of fungus, making it an attractive compound in formulas used to combat yeast overgrowth in the body. [11] Unfortunately there is relatively little research in humans but preliminary findings thus far are promising.

One tablespoon (1.8 grams) of dried cilantro leaves contains 5 calories, 0.39 grams of protein, 0.09 grams of fat, 0.94 grams of carbohydrates, and 0.2 grams of fiber. [12] Cilantro is only about 11% fiber by dry weight but offers an exceptional amount of flavor for very few calories.

One-half cup of fresh cilantro leaves offers 28% of the vitamin K, 3% of the vitamin C and A recommended you consume daily. [13] When selecting cilantro, I strongly advise choosing fresh leaves as the dried leaves do not hold their flavor as well as other dried herbs.

Cilantro is rarely if ever incorporated in to supplement formulas. You are most likely to find cilantro, potentially listed on the label as coriander leaf, as a component of standalone cilantro capsules or oil as well as greens formulas.

A surprisingly large subset of the population finds cilantro to leave a soapy aftertaste in their mouth after consumption so be sure to check with your audience before cooking a meal with cilantro. My top picks for dishes incorporating cilantro include cilantro lime chicken in the crock pot, cilantro-lime coleslaw, and cilantro corn salsa.

#5 – Parsley

Don’t discount parsley just because it is commonly used as a garnish. This herb originates from the plant Petroselinum crispum and plays a critical role in European, Middle Eastern, and American dishes.

The key active compounds in parsley like apigenin, apiin, and coumarins can fight inflammation, decrease the formation of kidney stones, and clean the urinary tract. [14] Parsley also as diuretic, liver-protecting, and muscle relaxing properties. [15] If you have poor liver bloodwork or if you have trouble using the bathroom then consider making parsley a staple in your diet.

One tablespoon (1.6 grams) of dried parsley contains 5 calories, 0.43 grams of protein, 0.09 grams of fat, 0.81 grams of carbohydrates, and 0.4 grams of fiber. [16] Parsley is lowest in fiber compared to the other herbs but also lowest in carbohydrates overall.

One-half cup of fresh chopped parsley provides 554% of the vitamin K, 54% of the vitamin C, 14% of the vitamin A, 12% of the folate, 10% of the iron, and 6% of the copper recommended you consume daily. Of the five herbs discussed in this article parsley and oregano offer exceptional flavor and nutrition.

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Two greens supplements, Controlled Labs Orange Triad + Greens and SAN Green Supreme Fusion contain parsley. The multivitamin Universal Nutrition Animal Pak and digestive health supplement Futurebiotics Colon Green contain parsley in their supplement formulations.

I do not frequently incorporate parsley in to my cooking but I have found a few favorite dishes over the years. I love adding parsley to turkey pot pie, beef stew in the crock pot, couscous salad, and turkey meatballs.

What herbs do you love to cook with or incorporate in to your supplement regimen? Let me know in the comments below.

References

1) Rodriguez-Garcia, I., et al. “Oregano Essential Oil As an Antimicrobial and Antioxidant Additive in Food Products.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr., July 2016, Accessed Jan. 2017.
2) “Basic Report: 02027, Spices, oregano, dried.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture, May 2016. Web. Jan. 2017.
3) “Oregano.” The World’s Healthiest Foods, George Mateljan Foundation, 2017, Accessed Jan. 2017.
4) González-Vallinas, M., et al. “Rosemary (Rosmarinus Officinalis L.) Extract As a Potential Complementary Agent in Anticancer Therapy.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Nutr Cancer, 2015, Accessed Jan. 2017.
5) “Basic Report: 02036, Spices, rosemary, dried.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture, May 2016. Web. Jan. 2017.
6) Kathirvel, P., and S. Ravi. “Chemical Composition of the Essential Oil from Basil (Ocimum Basilicum Linn.) and Its In vitro Cytotoxicity Against HeLa and HEp-2 Human Cancer Cel…” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Nat Prod Res, 2012, Accessed Jan. 2017.
7) Sampath, S., et al. “Holy Basil (Ocimum Sanctum Linn.) Leaf Extract Enhances Specific Cognitive Parameters in Healthy Adult Volunteers: A Placebo Controlled Study.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Indian J Physiol Pharmacol, Accessed Jan. 2017.
8) “Basic Report: 02003, Spices, basil, dried.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture, May 2016. Web. Jan. 2017.
9) “Basil.” The World’s Healthiest Foods, George Mateljan Foundation, 2017, Accessed Jan. 2017.
10) Aissaoui, A., et al. “Hypoglycemic and Hypolipidemic Effects of Coriandrum Sativum L. in Meriones Shawi Rats.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, J Ethnopharmacol, 1 Sept. 2011, Accessed Jan. 2017.
11) Silva, F., et al. “Antifungal Activity of Coriandrum Sativum Essential Oil, Its Mode of Action Against Candida Species and Potential Synergism with Amphotericin B.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Phytomedicine, 15 Dec. 2011, Accessed Jan. 2017.
12) “Basic Report: 11165, Coriander (cilantro) leaves, raw.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture, May 2016. Web. Jan. 2017.
13) “Cilantro & Coriander Seeds.” The World’s Healthiest Foods, George Mateljan Foundation, 2017, Accessed Jan. 2017.
14) Farzaei, M. H., et al. “Parsley: a Review of Ethnopharmacology, Phytochemistry and Biological Activities.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, J Tradit Chin Med, Dec. 2013, Accessed Jan. 2017.
15) Pápay, Z. E., et al. “Pharmaceutical and Formulation Aspects of Petroselinum Crispum Extract.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Acta Pharm Hung, 2012, Accessed Jan. 2017.
16) “Basic Report: 02029, Spices, parsley, dried.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture, May 2016. Web. Jan. 2017.

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Name: Nick Ludlow

Bio: When it comes to fitness I enjoy reading about historic weight lifters, non-conventional weightlifting approaches, nutritional protocols, and the science behind supplements.