Are Spices and Herbs Nutritional?

Are Spices and Herbs Nutritional?You may have heard about using spices and herbs to increase vitamins and nutrients in your diet. Are spices and herbs nutritional? What are their real advantages? And which spices and herbs are worth purchasing if healthy eating is your motivation?

Statistics can be confusing and the old adage of “Figures don’t lie, but liars sure can figure” applies to data about the amount of vitamins and nutrients in spices and herbs. In the United States in 1968 the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) became the standard for letting everyone know the minimum levels of nutrients necessary to maintain a person’s daily requirements. RDI can be seen as Daily Value (DV), which is expressed as a percentage on food labels today. Another set of figures were introduced in 1997 because of the concern for, and potential harm of, ingesting too much of a good thing. This is known as RDA or Recommended Daily Allowance. Thus, the confusion in the actual percentage of vitamins and nutrients that a spice or herb contains.

Spices and herbs make up a very small part of your daily intake. Be wary of exaggerated claims of certain flavorings that provide a large percentage of your daily needs and look carefully at the quantity that you need to eat in order to receive those benefits. For instance, a teaspoon (this same quantity is used throughout the examples given) of cayenne pepper would provide adults with about 83% of the daily-recommended intake of vitamin A. But unless you really like your food hot, few would use this amount on a daily basis. (That is one way of increasing your water intake, however.)

One spice that does meet the vitamin A requirements is paprika. One teaspoon of it has about 140% of your daily needs. A teaspoon of thyme has about 10% of your daily needs of iron, while the same amount of basil contributes about 7% of your daily requirements of zinc. Coriander leaf, also known as cilantro, fulfills about 6% of your daily needs for vitamin C. Developing a taste for salsa, guacamole and pesto sauces may be a very healthy thing to do between the basil, cilantro, cayenne and paprika contained in them. With basil and cilantro it is easy to consume more than a teaspoonful in one sitting, therefore, increasing your vitamin intake.

Seven teaspoons of celery seeds would provide you with the same amount of calcium as an 8-ounce cup of milk, but there are few individual servings that would include that amount of celery seeds. Thus, one teaspoon would give you just 4% of the daily-recommended amount of calcium. Even a teaspoon of mustard seeds provides only 3% of the daily magnesium and phosphorus needed by an adult.

So, if you are making a meal and you happen to use a teaspoonful of any spice or herb, the chances are that you are preparing more than just one helping. A teaspoon of any one spice goes a long way toward flavoring a large quantity of food. Thus, as you can see, your actual consumption of the vitamins mentioned is even smaller. With herbs you can easily eat more than a teaspoon, whether in a sauce or in a salad.

One way to get around this dilemma of small quantities is to combine a variety of nuts with the seed spices (sesame, sunflower, caraway and fennel, for example). You may combine them into your own healthy gorp or add them to an existing trail mix. Even though nuts are not a spice, they do contain many healthy vitamins, nutrients, good fats and protein. In addition, they combine well with seeds, and you can easily eat more of them.

So, are spices and herbs nutritional? If you love to spice up your food, combining a quarter teaspoon of several herbs and spices will add up to more than a teaspoon and a greater variety of vitamins and nutrients that you may not get elsewhere. When considering your daily intact, spices won’t contribute a huge portion of the essentials to your diet, but sprinkling them over your food is an easy and tasty way to supplement the vitamins and nutrients that other foods provide.

Biking Lake Dillon, Colorado

Biking Lake Dillon Colorado

Picnic spot along Lake Dillon

The Breckenridge weather was nice when we drove up on Saturday, so we went bicycling Lake Dillon, Colorado. We went about 7 miles or so before my lungs and other parts gave out. Near the Dillon Amphitheate there is a split-log structure with a huge stone fireplace to keep you somewhat sheltered while you picnic. It made a perfect frame for the distant mountains. The area has changed, since many of the trees, killed by pine beetles, have been removed. Visitors no doubt like the visibility and are unaware of the changes. There was an art show in town with many unique and talented artisans. I sat out on the balcony and listened to the creek water rushing by while reading a Laura Lippman book. The soak in the hot tub on Sunday night was the piece de resistance.

A Street Person in Denver

I’m at Wendy’s for a cheap meal (baked potato and chocolate frosty) and wave to a man I recognize. He is a street person that cleaned the windows at my print shop years before. I’m embarrassed I don’t remember his name.

He looks my way, waves and walks on. A minute or so later he is back and sits down with me to talk. “You look different,” he said. A nice way to say I looked older. I brushed it off with “Yeh, I cut my hair and I’m not curly anymore.”

He looks good, I think, as he sits down. He’s lost weight, looks less disheveled and more distinguished, as happens with some aging men. He is wearing a green fleecy over shirt with a hole under the front pocket. He is no longer accompanied by his pail and squeegee. His life is less fixated on betting on the dogs and horses, but it remains a major topic of discussion.

“I used to be able to win $200 to $300 at the track, but now it’s not the same. It’s all rigged now,” he concedes. He makes money doing landscaping work and stocking shelves and displays for shopowners along Broadway.

He still lives on the street. Even in his winning days, he wouldn’t consider putting money in the bank. “I’d just take it out to place a bet. You can’t keep that kind of money on the street. People will rob you. Thirty to forty dollars is safe.”

He speaks in short sentences with paranoid references to being free of the man. He is a Vietnam vet, but “I never took any money from the government.” He is a free spirit, who spent much of his life gambling away friends and family.

“Gotta keep moving ahead,” he says and volunteers that he has been doing some drawings. He pulls out a wad of white-lined sheets of paper torn from a spiral notebook and unfolds them. He seems proud of his work and explains his method and medium, “I use crayons. The watercolors run and are hard to keep dry on the street. They get ruined.”

It is no surprise that the pictures are of horses. They are cartoonish with skinny legs. One has a mountain in the background with two or three evergreens dotting the page. I flash on drawings tacked across a wall, entries in a children’s contest.

“You might be able to get some acrylic paint at Meininger’s Art Supply,” I say. I was thinking their dumpsters might provide some partial tubes of paint. He knew the company well, “They’re expensive.”

“You know, the Denver Art Museum has a free day the first Saturday of every month. You should go. Off to the side as you enter they have canvas-like paper and free paint, and you can spend some time in there and do some drawing. It’s free.”

He talks a little about real estate. He knows people, who are living in condos that cost just $200 a month. There is very little housing, fewer and fewer apartments and “hotels want at least $50 a night.” Conversation plays out in a staccato-like rhythm. “I have to get going,” I admit. He lingers and we say goodbye.

Part of me is sympathetic to his living on the street. Part of me realizes he couldn’t care less for my opinion of his situation. He is living the life that he chose and continues to choose. He is one of the invisible people, living free and off the grid.