Monday, 10 December 2007

Herb It Up

Publication: The Financial Express
Author: Kiran Yadav

You may not need another reason to love that extra oregano in your Greek salad, but this ‘food for thought’ is worth considering. Well, the herb clearly has more to boast than its bold flavour. For one, it is not just rich in antioxidants but also phytochemicals that help the body fight cancer.

Other exotic herbs like thyme, rosemary, basil, peppermint, parsley, savory, marjoram and chives too rub shoulders with oregano when it comes to health properties. The better news is that as people increasingly experiment with Mexican, Italian, Greek and Mediterranean cuisines, more and more exotic herbs are finding way to the Indian palate.

Says chef Abhijit Prasad of InterContinental, Delhi, “Herbs spice up the food in a health way. We try and use as much fresh herbs as possible, growing a lot of them here at the hotel.”

A research published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry highlights that herbs propel higher antioxidant activity than fruits, vegetables and even some spices like garlic.

But what are antioxidants? Dr Karuna Chaturvedi, head, dietitics wing, Apollo Delhi explains, “Antioxidants prevent cellular damage caused by free radicals.

Environmental pollution and pesticides in the food that we are subjected to daily cause the generation of free radicals in the body. Research has proved that destroying free radicals can help the body fight heart diseases and even cancer. Consuming antioxidants is important because the body cannot manufacture it internally. Vitamin E, C and beta-carotene are the main antioxidants.”

According to research, the oregano family is most anti oxidant dense. On a per gram fresh weight basis, oregano has 42 times more antioxidant activity than apples, 30 times more than potatoes, 12 times more than oranges and four times more than blueberries!

Dr Bindu Sharma, medical director at Dr Batras Positive Health Clinic says, “Oregano’s anti-bacterial properties make it a potent cure for gastrointestinal disease Giardiasis … even more than its prescribed drug Tinidazol. It is also rich in calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, Omega 3 and other fatty acids.”

Other herbs high in antioxidants include dill, garden thyme, rosemary and peppermint. For instance, the pine-scented herb rosemary contains carnosol, a strong antioxidant, which helps guard against breast cancer by detoxifying substances that can initiate cancer process. It may also protect against skin and lung cancers.

Says Dr Sakshi Chawla, chief dietician, Fortis Hospital, Noida, “Indian herbs are as healthy. Just eating 1-2 cloves on an empty stomach everyday helps lower cholesterol and relieve hypertension. Turmeric is well-known for its antiseptic and pain relieving properties. Aloe vera, rich in anti-oxidants, is excellent for hair and skin and also helps fight cancer. Most importantly it can be easily grown at home.”

Using even small amount of herbs in cooking provides many phytochemicals with potential anticancer benefits according to scientists at the American Institute for Cancer Research. For instance Parsley, with its faint and subtle flavor, is rich in polyacetylenes which protects against carcinogens found in tobacco smoke and may also help combat tumor.

So be it in soups, stews, salad dressings, baked vegetables or roasted chicken…for flavour or merely for garnishing, preferably fresh or else dried, just go ahead and herb it up! But remember, a balanced diet is indispensable.

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