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.