Eating Healthy (with Herbs)

Did you know that small changes in your eating habits can make a huge impact on improving your health and happiness? To function at their best, our bodies require the right amount of basic foods; whole grains, fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy, healthy amounts of fat and water. Our bodies can obtain the necessary vitamins and minerals from the kinds of food that our ancestors used to eat every day. Before the days of fast-food, sugar-laden candy bars, potato chips and soda, food was consumed for nutrients and energy. Today, our bodies still need these same nutrients. And achieving a higher level of nutrition and health is not as difficult as it may seem.

Herbs can help by adding tons of flavor with minimal effort. Herbal vinegar and oils are a great example of this. Each herbal vinegar or oil is infused with flavor that can be easily accessed with a simple pouring of the bottle. Herbal vinegar can be used to deglaze a saute pan, then cooked down with water or stock for a tangy low-fat sauce. Herbal vinegar or oil can be brushed onto grilled, steamed, or roasted meat, fish or vegetables. They can also add tremendous flavor to a lettuce salad or even dessert.

Fresh or dried herbs can be added to dishes for additional textures, flavors and nutrients. Many herbs, especially those that have a bitter taste, aid digestion as they add flavor. Hot and spicy herbs such as garlic, hot peppers, mustard, horseradish, and fennel seed have been found to increase metabolism while simultaneously increasing flavor. You can even decrease the amount of fat in a recipe while adding these herbs and not miss the fat. Garlic chives can add a gentle hint of garlic to meatballs and meatloaf. Common chives can be added to cream cheese or a little drained, plain yogurt to create an onion-flavored spread for your favorite bagel or toast. Use your imagination and keep track of your favorite combinations.

Remember that the herbs and spices you add to your food must combine to enhance the flavors already present, as well as complement each other. Some herbs and spices easily form flavor families. These combinations can often be purchased as a blend, or they can be combined at home. Try to concentrate on one flavor family at a time so the flavors do not overwhelm each other.

Herb and Spice Flavor Families can include;

Bouquet Garnis– Basil, bay, oregano and parsley
Herbal– Basil, marjoram, rosemary and thyme
Hot– Chili peppers, cilantro, cumin, garlic and onion
Pungent– Chili peppers, cumin, curry, ginger and peppercorns
Sweet– Cinnamon, ginger, star anise, lemon verbena, lemon balm, mints

To test herb or spice combinations mix several blends into small portions of cream cheese, yogurt or other mild cheeses. Allow to sit for at least an hour and sample your creations.

Herbs can also easily be used to create flavor-filled herbal teas. These teas can be used to relax, medicate, sooth, refresh or simply be enjoyed for their various flavors. They can be consumed hot or cold and are a great way to add extra water to your diet. Either fresh or dried herbs can be used. The dried herb is, however, more potent and the oils are more concentrated so you need to use less dried herb than fresh. Place the herbs (2 tsp. dried or 2 TBL. fresh) in a non-metallic container. Pour fresh, boiling water over them, cover and steep for 5-10 minutes. Strain into a cup, sweeten to taste and enjoy.

Some favorite ( and easy-to grow) herb flavors for tea include;

Lemon balm– Lemon citrus flavor. Excellent mixed with other teas. Great for suntea.
Chamomile– Mild, apple-like flavor from flower heads. Soothing before bedtime.
Fennel– Licorice-like flavor from seeds or leaves.
Rose hips– Fruity, spicy tea high in Vitamin C.
Lavender– Delicate flavor from flowers and leaves. Great to blend with other herbs.
Bergamot/Monarda– Aromatic flavor similar to Earl Grey tea from leaves.
Sweet Woodruff– Sweet vanilla flavor from dried leaves.
Herbs are easy to grow and are a perfect addition to a patio garden, flower or vegetable garden. Most herbs will thrive in full sun and are usually pest-free. They are also currently available at the local garden centers and once planted will enhance your favorite dishes all season long.

To achieve maximum health and vitality, start with small changes and add to them. Remember, whatever steps you take should be for the long-term. Find a way to create your favorite recipes in a healthier and more flavorful way and savor every bite. Focus on healthy eating and on how you feel. Never forget: you are more than a number on the scale!!!

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