Weather conditions have prevented vegetable garden planting, but my herb garden is certainly enjoying the cool weather. A couple of weeks ago, extension sponsored a program on herbs and spices, which inspired me to plant more herbs which I will use in cooking.
Herbs and spices have been used for centuries to season and flavor foods. They can also be used to make the foods we prepare healthier. By replacing salt with seasonings, such as black pepper, garlic powder, curry powder, cumin, basil, coriander or ginger, sodium can be reduced.
Be sure to check the ingredient label of seasoning mixes you may use to ensure that salt is not the first ingredient. To reduce sodium, buy powdered garlic or onion instead of garlic salt or onion salt.
Eating 100 fewer calories than needed a day can lead to a 10-pound weight loss in a year. Adding spices such as allspice, anise, cardamom or cinnamon will add flavor and allow you to reduce the amount of sugar in some preparations.
Experiment with different herbs and spices to discover new flavors you enjoy. For instance, try seasoning oatmeal, dry cereals, sweet potatoes or squash with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar, rather than sugar alone.
Eating lower-fat preparations can reduce calories and decrease the risks of heart disease and some cancers. Using herbs and spices for flavoring -- instead of breading, batters, gravies or sauces -- is a healthier preparation method. Grilling foods seasoned with herbs and spices, instead of frying, is another way to reduce fat.
Studies show that many popular herbs and spices are sources of natural antioxidants, the compounds that play an important role in neutralizing free radicals and reducing cancer risk.
Some herbs have more antioxidant power per gram than many fruits and vegetables; however, people usually don't eat them in the same quantities as fruits and vegetables. Those with the highest antioxidant activity are oregano, sweet marjoram, rose geranium, sweet bay, dill, thyme, rosemary and sage. Combine these herbs with a healthy diet that includes fruits and vegetables for increased antioxidant properties.
While some benefits of common herbs and spices are based in history and folklore, they are being researched for health properties today. Some of the most promising research shows that cinnamon has one of the highest antioxidant levels of any spice -- as much in one teaspoon as in a cup of pomegranate juice or a half cup of blueberries.
Research is very promising that cinnamon can act like insulin in the body and may help regulate blood sugar levels. Hot or cayenne pepper has the potential to suppress certain cancer cells. Sage may protect brain cells and help preserve memory and thinking.
Studies have shown turmeric may be useful in treating Alzheimer's disease, cancer and cystic fibrosis. Cloves can help ease a toothache and have been used for years to sweeten bad breath. Rosemary may help reduce headaches and prevent damage that could lead to strokes and Alzheimer's disease.
Remember to always follow good eating guidelines based on the dietary guidelines for Americans. And talk with your physician before basing nutrition and health decisions on yet-to-be-proven information.
For a copy of the publication "Seasoning with Herbs and Spices," please stop by the extension office on the first floor of the courthouse and look online at www.ksre.ksu.edu, under publications.
Editor's Note: Ann Ludlum is a K-State Research and Extension family and consumer sciences and 4-H extension agent assigned to Bourbon County. She may be reached at 620-223-3720 or firstname.lastname@example.org.