Use Seasonings to Savor the Flavor

Herbs-and-SpicesMarch is National Nutrition Month, so why not experiment a little with herbs and spices in your kitchen?  Not only are herbs and spices excellent for enhancing the flavor of food without additional salt or sugar, they also can provide other health benefits.

The use of herbs, which typically come from the leaves of plants, has been traced back to the B.C. era. Spices, which come from the bark, fruit, stems, roots, buds, berries or seeds of plants, started to have common use around the second century A.D.

Centuries ago, people thought that herbs and spices had certain properties that benefited health, and scientists have uncovered that they were probably right. Some have germ-killing properties, some act as antioxidants and some may even help prevent or decrease the spread of cancer.

Garlic and other spices are linked to a decreased risk of gastric cancer; cinnamon may lower blood glucose levels and improve insulin sensitivity; capsaicin, the hot component of chili peppers, may inhibit prostate cancer growth; and ginger, which has long been used to treat nausea and vomiting, may act as an anti-inflammatory agent and has been shown to decrease the incidence of some types of cancers.

“It can be challenging to incorporate variety when preparing healthy foods,” said Gayle Jennings, MS, RD, a clinical dietician at Memorial Medical Center. “Trying different flavors and keeping things interesting is key to satisfying our appetite and staying away from high-fat and high-sodium foods.”

Here are some of Gayle’s suggestions. Let’s get cooking:

  • If chicken is on the menu, mix rosemary and Italian seasoning with olive oil and brush onto chicken breasts to coat, then grill or sauté. Other herbs and spices good with chicken include oregano, tarragon, sage, ginger, marjoram and allspice.
  • Fish can be paired with chili pepper, basil, oregano, dill, paprika, ginger, parsley, marjoram and rosemary to enhance the flavor. Also, try lemongrass with shrimp.
  • Make a vegetable omelet and add minced dill, garlic and/or basil.
  • Enhance steamed carrots with cinnamon, clove, nutmeg or ginger. For a more savory taste, sprinkle with marjoram or sage.
  • Make memorable mashed potatoes by adding cilantro or chili pepper. Serve baked potatoes with a dollop of low-fat sour cream and a sprinkle of chopped chives. Other herbs and spices to try with potatoes include garlic, paprika, parsley, sage and dill.

The options to savor the flavor are not limited to these suggestions.  Visit for more great ways to use herbs and spices.

Gayle Jennings, MS, RD, LDN, CDE, is a clinical dietitian at Memorial Medical Center. She has been at Memorial since 2008, working primarily with Cardiology, Neurology, Rehab and Orthopedics. She has a passion for nutrition and diabetes education, and helps individuals learn to make small changes in their eating habits that can have a big impact on their lives. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Family and Consumer Sciences from Eastern Illinois University and her master’s degree from Illinois State University.

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