Mediterranean dishes tend to be low in carbs, high in protein and packed with nutrient-containing vegetables. While the healthy base ingredients used to prepare Mediterranean meals certainly provide an excellent reason for choosing the diet, they are nothing compared to the positive health effects of the herbs and spices these meals contain.
Ingredients in the Mediterranean diet, like tomato, lettuce and pretty much any plant that has colour are jam-packed with powerful pigments that act as antioxidants and other disease-preventing agents in the body. These pigments are often referred to as phytochemicals in the food-science world.
Since herbs and spices are plants just as vegetables are, they also add phytochemicals to the diet. Cinnamon, turmeric and oregano contain different types of pigments. Phytochemicals are responsible for pigmentation. Without these chemicals, there would be no colour in organic-based foods.
All the herbs and spices associated with the Mediterranean diet provide health benefits through their phytochemicals. Some of the commonly used herbs and spices provide unique effects.
Basil is a herb which is used a lot in Dalmatian cooking. Many if not most households cultivate their own basil plants, in pots if not in the garden, propagating their crop from year to year from the seed-heads formed after flowering. Basil is also commonly used as seasoning in Italian cooking, which is technically part of the Mediterranean diet, despite being high in carbs. It is possible to make Italian-type meals lighter by replacing pasta with spaghetti squash.
Basil is loaded with vitamin A and has the ability to destroy bad species of bacteria. Its anti-inflammatory properties have persuaded some users to profess it to be an excellent herb for relieving migraine symptoms. Inflammation in certain arthritic conditions is sometimes helped by including basil in the diet.
Oregano is another herb which plays a big part in the Dalmatian diet. It is even more nutrient-dense than the tomatoes that the herb is often responsible for seasoning. It has all the vitamins and minerals of those lovely, red fruits, plus, it comes with the addition of a lot more fibre and omega-3 fatty acids.
Fatty acids help keep us heart healthy. They may also support healthy brain function. Some studies have even suggested that the addition of fatty acids helps to alleviate the symptoms of autism-spectrum disorders.
Cinnamon is a spice used to bring out the flavour in a lot of Middle-Eastern dishes, and is increasingly popular in Dalmatian cooking.
Cinnamon has the ability to stabilize blood sugar levels. It has been clinically proven to be a powerful addition to any diabetic diet, and it may also help to prevent Type 2 Diabetes.
Turmeric is a spice more associated with Asian and Middle Eastern cooking than Dalmatian. Chicken prepared with turmeric takes on a distinctive orange colour which gives advance promise of its tangy flavour.
Turmeric is now widely available in Dalmatia, but a lot of cooks use it only as an add-on seasoning to sprinkle over food, rather than including it in the actual cooking.
Its increasing popularity may have something to do with the fact that Dr. Oz has suggested consuming this seasoning may result in weight loss. Dr. Oz’s programme has been compulsive viewing in Croatia, and the attraction of losing weight by eating something tasty is never one to be ignored, especially by those who over-indulge.
In fact the weight loss only happens in conjunction with a healthy active Mediterranean lifestyle, but some of turmeric’s health benefits can still be reaped even if your lifestyle is unhealthy. If you are only concerned with losing weight, you probably won’t notice turmeric’s ability to reduce inflammation. But your aches and pains may be reduced anyway through turmeric’s antioxidant action without you thinking about it.
This is a small sample of the herbs and spices used in the Mediterranean diet, and is an indication of how wide-ranging the definition of Mediterranean diet is. There are plenty of others that all add to those unique flavours and interesting tastes in the dishes found in Dalmatian, Italian, Greek and Middle-Eastern cooking.
© Jonathan Leger 2016
Jonathan Leger is a member of the Garden Writer's Association and a gardening enthusiast. You can check out his website where he shares his passion for the unique plants of the world.