Image Credit: Augapfel / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Antioxidants in a Pinch: Dried Herbs and Spices

In the Washington, DC area we are blessed with more than a dozen farmers’ markets. One local farm I frequent has a hydroponic greenhouse, so I can get fresh basil all year long. I’ve always been curious, though, how hydroponic basil—grown in water—compared nutritionally to basil grown in soil. Finally, a study was published comparing the two, which I feature in my 1-min. video Is Hydroponic Basil as Healthy?

The hydroponic basil won hands down! It had more antioxidant power and more key vitamins and phytonutrients. Why? Because the basil doesn’t like being grown in water. It’s the same reason many organic greens are healthier. Organic plants get bitten by bugs and, in defense, cruciferous greens such as kale and collards manufacture more of those wonderful glucosinolate compounds I featured in my videos, Breast Cancer Stem Cells vs. Broccoli and The Best Detox. Likewise, under the environmental stress of drowning hydroponically, basil releases more phenolic antioxidant phytonutrients like rosmarinic acid to protect itself, and we can reap the benefits. For more on these compounds, see my 2-min. video Phytochemicals: The Nutrition Facts Missing From the Label.

If you’re not lucky enough to live near a farm stand and too busy to grow your own, dried herbs and spices are surprisingly healthful. In fact, in a comparison of the Antioxidant Content of 3,139 Foods, ounce for ounce dried herbs and spices average the greatest antioxidant punch of all! Now even though herbs and spices may have 10 times the antioxidant power of nuts and seeds for example, it’s easy to eat a few ounces of nuts in one sitting, but not so easy to eat a few ounces of nutmeg. However, some herbs and spices are so off-the-charts amazing that just a small pinch can go a long way. Check out my video Antioxidants in a Pinch. It’s one of my all-time favorite NutritionFacts.org videos (I like the ones where I’m able to offer practical advice).

Isn’t it enough to just eat a variety of fruits and vegetables? Should we really go out of our way to shift towards choosing the most antioxidant-packed? There is growing evidence that choosing foods particularly rich in antioxidants offers health benefits above and beyond quantity. For more, view my videos Anti-Inflammatory AntioxidantsThe Power of NO, and Bulking Up on Antioxidants.

Happy Labor Day week!
-Michael Greger, M.D.

Discuss

Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.


15 responses to “Antioxidants in a Pinch: Dried Herbs and Spices

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  1. Really?  I’ve been so intrigued by those so-called “tower gardens” (see e.g., https://www.towergarden.com/) in which plants are basically grown in water plus added liquid nutrients.  I never got one because I assumed the foods grown there would not be as nutritious as food receiving natural nutrients grown in regular soil.  Surely plants eating nothing but man-made plant-food couldn’t compare to plants grown in natural soils, just as humans do better on fruits and vegetables versus fast food drive-thrus.  But it sounds like I’m wrong?  Do you speculate these tower gardens are healthful options?




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  2. I enjoyed the antioxidants in a pinch video, but I’d like to bring attention to another research paper, “Inhibition of Protein Glycation by
    Extracts of Culinary Herbs and Spices” by

    R. P. Dearlove et al (J Med Food 11 (2) 2008, 275–281 ) that I like
    better. The results vary somewhat from the research that Dr. Greger looked at
    (although cloves still won the top spot) because the researchers used a
    different, and I think more biologically interesting test, the ability of
    extracts of culinary herbs and spices to inhibit protein glycation, or AGEs,
    which play an important role in both aging and disease processes.
      

    You can find a pdf copy of the paper here: 
    https://docs.google.com/gview?url=http://www.globalcitizen.net/Data/Pages/1049/papers/2010022311157709.pdf

    I recommend that you print out a copy of Table 1 and post it in your
    kitchen – I did.




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  3. I enjoyed the antioxidants in a pinch
    video, but I’d like to bring attention to another research paper, “Inhibition of
    Protein Glycation by Extracts of Culinary Herbs and Spices”
    by R. P. Dearlove et al (J Med Food 11
    (2) 2008, 275–281 ) that I like better. The results vary somewhat from the
    research that Dr. Greger looked at (although cloves still earned the top spot)
    because the researchers used a different, and I think more biologically
    interesting test, the ability of extracts of culinary herbs and spices to
    inhibit protein glycation, or AGEs, which play an important role in both aging
    and disease processes.

    You can find a pdf copy of the paper
    here:
    https://docs.google.com/gview?url=http://www.globalcitizen.net/Data/Pages/1049/papers/2010022311157709.pdf
    I recommend that you print out a copy
    of Table 1 and post it in your kitchen – I did.




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  4. I am unable to come to a confident conclusion about the possible dangers of Folic Acid via a Supplement.

    RE: 
    http://nutritionfacts.org/video/can-folic-acid-be-harmful/ Q: How much Folic Acid is too much Folic Acid via supplements? And can one be tested for no-converted Folic Acid in ones blood (plasma)? You say in the video at the end “and that is what we think may be behind the elevated cancer risk.”

    ‘Thinking’ and ‘maybe’ isn’t conclusive. Can’t one drop folic acid on a cancer cell in a petri dish vs folate vs placebo – and actually see which cancer cell divides faster?

    In case there isn’t an equivalent study about it … You say it isn’t good. I get the difference between folate and folic acid. But how much of the synthetic product (folic acid) is too much? Some say it is ok and needed – http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/vitamin-b9-000338.htm . Then there are the other guys ( http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/ ) who say it is good but recommend not to take more than 1000 micrograms. “Folate intake from food is not associated with any health risk. The risk of toxicity from folic acid intake from supplements and/or fortified foods is also low. It is a water soluble vitamin, so any excess intake is usually lost in the urine.”

    “Usually.” What does usually mean ffs?

    And then there are the other guys who are really scaring me ( http://www.doctorsresearch.com/folic-acid.html ) but also want to sell me their products at the same time. … AND putting a disclaimer at end; “Some of these studies (or citations) may not conform to peer review standards, therefore, the results are not conclusive. Professionals can, and often do, come to different conclusions when reviewing scientific data. None of these statements have been reviewed by the FDA.”

    *giving up on common sense* *HELP* *

    Thank you very much in advance,
    Michael




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  5. Interesting and informative article. I’ve always tried to eat healthy though I never knew to much about antioxidants. I then go talking to a friend who is something of a nutritional expert who is very enthusiastic about them. I did a little of my own research and came across a website http://besthealthproductsonly.com/
    that recommends a couple of antioxidant products which I then started using. 
    They really do work, I started to feel healthier and full of energy almost immediately. I found it easier to keep the weight off also. I would strongly recommend them to anyone.




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  6. I enjoyed the antioxidants in a pinch
    video, but I’d like to bring attention to another research paper, “Inhibition of
    Protein Glycation by Extracts of Culinary Herbs and Spices”
    by R. P. Dearlove et al (J Med Food 11
    (2) 2008, 275–281 ) that I like better. The results vary somewhat from the
    research that Dr. Greger looked at (although cloves still won the top spot)
    because the researchers used a different, and I think more biologically
    interesting test, the ability of extracts of culinary herbs and spices to
    inhibit protein glycation, or AGEs, which play an important role in both aging
    and disease processes.

    You can find a pdf copy of the paper
    here:
    https://docs.google.com/gview?url=http://www.globalcitizen.net/Data/Pages/1049/papers/2010022311157709.pdf
    I recommend that you print out a copy
    of Table 1 and post it in your kitchen – I did.




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    0
  7. Hi, I really like this video, but I’m striving to get these two papers:

    Cellular antioxidant activity of common vegetables (http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/jf9035832)
    and
    Cellular antioxidant activity of common fruits (http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/jf801381y)

    for whose they’re charging $$ so I can’t translate and divulgate this potentially life-saving information on my blog (perladieta.blogspot.it).

    Please Dr.Greger, help me out!
    Thanks and best regards




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  8. Hi Dr. Greger,

    I would really like to know about the nutritional value and/or benefits of dried herbs in comparison to fresh herbs. I heard Dill (weed) has had studies with great results on cholesterol-lowering effects. Here’s a quick article I found just now – http://www.livestrong.com/article/140378-health-benefits-dill-weed/.

    But I am curious. In the middle east they often make stews with dried herbs, such as dill and parsley, oregano and mint etc. I know from your videos that fresh mint and oregano do wonders for nutritional benefits.

    But does the drying process affect the nutritional content? I’m very interested in dried dill, mint, parsley and oregano. Obviously when in season, fresh must be best. But I’m wanting to enjoy the tastes and benefits for longer.

    Thankyou! :)

    And if there’s time, I’m still keen to know of any research on the nutritional benefits of consuming dried tamarind/paste!!

    -Sunny




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    1. HI Sunny. Thank you for your questions about herbs and spices. I am a Registered Dietitian and volunteer moderator with Nutrition Facts.org. The quick answer to your question is YES, dried are just as good as fresh herbs (or maybe even better) from an antioxidant perspective. Recently another volunteer moderator provided a great summary that I have re-posted below.

      Regarding your dill question and connection with cholesterol lowering, I have to admit this was news to me. I read the Livestrong article you included, found it interesting but slightly disappointed that the studies were done in rats and not humans. So, I then did a quick search on pubmed and found a randomized clinical trial (human study) that had similar results – dill lowered total cholesterol and triglycerides (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4235097/). So, this is indeed exciting. I think what we know right now about the health benefits of herbs and spices is really the tip of the iceberg …. and more reason to include a wide variety of foods, including herbs and spices, dried or fresh, in our daily diets.
      ———————————-
      From NF.org moderator Megan (Feb 2017):
      Back in the 80’s, the NIH and USDA began developing a database of ORAC values, which is basically the antioxidant capacities of specific foods. I have recently stumbled upon a website that has a list of the ORAC values of thousands of foods. It appears that the dried version of herbs have an average of about 3x the antioxidant capacity of the fresh versions, because they are a more concentrated form of the active constituents of the herb, once the water has been removed. The only catch is that antioxidants deteriorate over time, due to post-harvesting treatments (UV exposure, irradiation, etc.), temperature, light, oxygen. Also, some of the plants’ deteriorate faster than others. So it seems that dried herbs have a higher antioxidant capacity than the fresh ones, just make sure your spices aren’t too old!

      https://www.superfoodly.com/fresh-vs-dried-herbs/
      http://nutritionfacts.org/topics/herbs/




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      1. That’s super fantastic! Thank you so much for getting to my query! I appreciate the time and research. I’m glad there’s more than just lab rats.
        I prefer it! That’s so helpful!




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