Adding fresh herbs and dried spices can boost the flavor and antioxidant content of your summer meals. The ORAC value, or Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, is a measurement of a food’s antioxidant power, which has been ranked by the USDA. It provides a measurement of a food’s ability to neutralize free radicals in the body that are linked to the development of many chronic diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. According to the USDA, fruits, nuts, and vegetables are great food sources of antioxidants, in addition to herbs and spices.
What are free radicals? When cells die, they release reactive oxygen molecules also known as free radicals, which can build up in our bodies and harm healthy cells (think of how an apple browns on the surface when exposed to oxygen). Exposure to certain environmental factors, such as tobacco smoke, can also lead to free radical formation. In addition to the color-producing compounds mentioned above, other examples of antioxidants include vitamins A, C, and E.
Herbs and spices are also a no-fuss way to ramp up the flavor of meals without adding a lot of salt or sugar. For a few seasonal starters, try tossing basil into a summer tomato salad, add chopped cilantro to salsa or guacamole, or top your iced coffee with ground cinnamon.
ORAC Values of Seasonal Fresh Herbs:
Herb Serving ORAC Value (the higher, the better)
Sage 2 tsp 500
Peppermint 2 Tbsp 400
Oregano 2 tsp 400
Cilantro ¼ cup 200
Thyme 1 tsp 200
Parsley 1 Tbsp 100
Dill 5 sprigs 100
Basil 1 Tbsp 100
Source: The O2 Diet by Keri Glassman, MS, RD
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