Season your Food!
There are many ways to step up your micronutrient gains, but which is the best? Most of us know that micronutrients, which include vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, are vital to our health, but let’s take a look at the humble, hard-working polyphenols. They act as antioxidants, protecting us from free radical damage and ultimately preventing some of the worst diseases. Berries were once thought to have the highest concentration of polyphenols. That is until more recent studies were published, showing HERBS & SPICES as the ring leaders, with cloves at the forefront, followed closely by dried peppermint, allspice, cinnamon and oregano. Now imagine adding these seasonings to antioxidant rich fruits and veggies and BOOM, you’ve supercharged your health! Let’s see what that would mean for you…
Why is this important?
Since polyphenols are naturally occurring in plants, we must make sure we are consuming as many fruits, veggies and herbs as possible (aim for 15-20 servings a day!). Check out our post from last week further explaining the differences and importance of antioxidants and polyphenols. Plants use them as warriors to protect them from stressors like free radicals, and in the same way they help us. Long-term consumption of foods rich in polyphenols has been shown to protect us from developing cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, osteoporosis, and neurological diseases.
Polyphenols can help us by…
- Acting as antioxidants and prevent oxidative stress from free radicals. (Better skin and anti-aging).
- Reducing unwanted inflammation in the body. (Inflammation is the root cause of most chronic diseases)
- Managing blood sugar levels. (Help with weight management)
- Improving endothelial function. (Lower risk of heart attack and stroke)
- Assisting our immune system. (Get sick less often)
Types of Polyphenols
There are more than 8,000 types of polyphenols, but they all roughly fall into 4 categories:
- Flavonoids- makes up 60% of polyphenols and is responsible for the red coloring in plant foods. Has been shown to regulate blood pressure, hormones, and insulin resistance, reducing risk of cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes.
- Phenolic Acids- the highest concentration is found in the seeds and skins of fruits as well as the leaves of veggies. They have anti-cancer, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Stilbenes- can be the hardest to absorb since it needs to make it through your large intestine and is mainly found in the skin of grapes and berries (in red wine, too). Serves as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.
Lignans- found in many plant foods and the higher the fiber, the higher the concentration (flaxseeds, whole grains, nuts/seeds, and veggies). Helps with hormone balance, anti-tumor properties, and free radical regulation.
The Best Sources…
While there are thousands of types of polyphenols, all with varying functions, when it comes down to it, their purpose is the same: protect your body and keep it running smoothly. Certain foods will have more of one type of polyphenol over others, so be sure to eat as wide a variety as possible. Here is a list of the biggest sources of all polyphenols to get you started!
- Spices and Seasonings- cloves, cinnamon, capers, curry powder, unprocessed cocoa powder. Dried herbs like: saffron, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, basil, ginger, and peppermint.
- Fruits- especially those with edible skin like: berries, apples, grapes, plums and apricots.
- Veggies- especially green, leafy ones: spinach, kale, asparagus, broccoli, artichoke, olives, carrots, and garlic.
- Nuts, Seeds, and Legumes- whole a nd minimally processed soybeans, black/white beans, almonds, chestnuts, walnuts, flax seeds and hemp seeds.
- Whole Grains- emphasis on WHOLE grain wheat, rye, bran, oats, and brown rice.
Scientists and dieticians encourage taking the food you already eat, because adding even a teaspoon of seasoning to it can have significant health benefits for you! For example:
- Cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and cocoa can be added to:
- Oregano goes well with:
- Pastas (FIGHT THE URGE!!!)
- Ginger, basil and peppermint boost:
Now you may have heard that beverages like coffee, tea and red wine are loaded with antioxidants and polyphenols. However, they also tend to come with caffeine, sugar and alcohol, all of which can cancel out some of the positive benefits. Be conscious of the whole package and drink these in moderation. If you need a second cup of coffee, try it decaf, or go for a green tea over a highly caffeinated black tea. Balsamic vinegar has all the benefits of red wine without the alcohol and with much less sugar, so add it to a salad for optimal results! One simple switch can make all the difference in your health.
Besides adding nutrient rich seasonings to your food, proper storage of these foods plays a big role in their antioxidant and polyphenol potency. How do you get the most out of these foods?
- Ripeness at harvest- too ripe=loss in nutrients. Try frozen fruits and veggies (they’re picked at peak ripeness!).
- Environment- sustainable and organic is best! Has been shown to have more nutrients than conventional or hydroponic methods.
- Processing- opt for minimally processed, and whole foods to keep nutrients intact.
- Packaging- light negatively impacts antioxidants and polyphenols, so go for dark packaging and keep in cool temperatures to preserve nutrients.
On top of having plenty of fruits and veggies, with some whole grains, don’t be shy with your seasoning! Dried herbs and spices are loaded with nutrients like antioxidants and polyphenols, so add plenty, as well as a variety, to your food. They are ideal because they are made from the seeds, bark and roots of plants, which is where the biggest concentration of these nutrients are found. Using seasonings can also help cut back on your sugar and salt intake, given the boost of flavors. You would think fresh
herbs would be more nutrient rich, but the truth is very little, to none, of the potency is lost. So season your food generously to meet your micronutrient needs, and keep diseases at bay.
Author: Carla Castro Trainer at Bare Health
- https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/over-50-nutrition-17/spices-and- herbs-health-benefits