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Pump Up the Flavor: Using Herbs and Spices

1 in 3 adults over the age of 20 years has hypertension, a primary risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is a blood pressure reading of 130/80 mm/hg or above. The consumption of highly processed foods is a major contributor to hypertension. Research has shown that incorporating more plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and lean protein in your diet can lower your blood pressure significantly. These guidelines go hand-in-hand with the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) and the Mediterranean diets. Aside from your diet, other interventions include becoming physically active, getting better sleep, decreasing stress, and taking medications.

Last week I held an event at Viterbo University that emphasized cooking with herbs and spices versus the traditional route of salt and pepper. Sodium doesn’t have to be completely restricted, but the amount that’s being used in recipes should be limited. Instead of using brown sugar or honey in oatmeal, you could substitute it with cinnamon to give it that sweet flavor without the added sugars. If pork chops are on the menu, season them with oregano or rosemary and garlic to give it a strong flavor. All herbs contain beneficial nutrients such as antioxidants, phytonutrients, anti-inflammatory characteristics, vitamins and minerals, etc. The use of herbs and spices offers a more crisp, flavorful taste – especially if you’re using fresh herbs.

A few simple recipes we created at the event were Roasted Chickpeas, Avocado Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes, Garlic Butter Baked Chicken Breast, and a Pearl Couscous and Citrus Salad. Everyone, including myself, really enjoyed them! Each recipe included some type of dry or fresh herb/spice such as:

  • Mint

  • This herb can be used in different salads, in water or smoothies. Mint leaves are a source of vitamin A, which promotes healthy skin and supports your immune system.

  • Basil

  • Typically used in Italian dishes (caprese, pasta, pizza) to give them a bright, pungent and peppery flavor. It has anti-inflammatory properties, supports liver and gut health, and may help with an upset stomach. It’s a rich source of vitamin K, which supports blood clot formation and wound healing.

  • Parsley

  • This herb that can be used in many recipes like homemade pesto, tomato sauce, salad dressings, etc. It’s source of vitamin C, which supports the immune system and is needed to absorb and store iron into the body.

  • Paprika

  • It’s a dried spice made from dried red fruits usually some type of pepper (bell, sweet, chili, or cayenne peppers). You can add it to most savory dishes like eggs, meats, soups, etc. It suppresses inflammation and is a source of vitamin E which is important for the health of your blood, brain and skin.

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