07/28/2016 05:55 EDT | Updated 07/28/2016 05:59 EDT

6 Ways Cooking With Herbs Can Make Your Food Healthier

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Long before we had conventional medicine and pharmaceuticals, we had herbs. In fact, active ingredients in pharmaceutical drugs are derived from the volatile oils in many herbs.

Herbs can boost the taste of food without adding extra calories and sodium, sure, but herbs can also make the food that we eat healthier.

We've all heard about how cinnamon can help balance our blood sugar, how garlic can help to fight a cold, and how turmeric can lower inflammation throughout our bodies. But cooking with certain herbs can bring us some lesser-known but important health benefits. Cooking with aromatic herbs can protect our bodies from dangerous microorganisms and free radicals that are created when we cook food. Some theorists believe that herbs were first used in tropical countries to kill dangerous microbes in food and protect against food poisoning.

Here are six simple ways to use herbs to make the food that you cook even healthier. You may even find that you are doing these things already!

  • Garlic and onions are rich in flavour that helps to give that extra special something to whatever we're cooking. But these sulfur-containing alliums also contain antioxidants that are believed to help keep cooking oil from getting damaged when it's heated. This is why we usually start the sauté process with these antioxidant-containing herbs such as garlic, onions, leeks and shallots.
  • Horseradish, mustard and ginger have antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, and are believed to help to reduce the risk of developing parasites resulting from eating raw fish and/or meat. This is why wasabi and pickled ginger are paired with sushi, fresh horseradish is served with oysters, and mustard is served with beef tartare.
  • Rosemary contains antioxidants that help to counteract the harmful, plastic-like chemical called acrylamide that forms when potatoes and other carbohydrate foods are cooked at high temperatures. A Danish study found that adding fresh rosemary to wheat dough cut acrylamide levels by 60 per cent! So add fresh rosemary to your roast potatoes, pizza dough and focaccia.
  • Parsley, especially when used in marinades, helps to protect the meat from free radicals called benzopyrenes that are created when meat is grilled over flames. When meat is marinated in antioxidant-rich herbs, like parsley, thyme and oregano combined with garlic and olive oil, the marinade forms a protective layer around the meat. Think of chimichurri, an Argentine steak marinade made from parsley, oregano, garlic and olive oil.
  • Sage, with antimicrobial, antibacterial and drying properties, has been used in stuffing since before we had refrigeration. Hunters would hunt their game, remove the internal organs and stuff the cavity with sage. This would keep the meat from spoiling by the time Thanksgiving rolled around. This is why sage is still traditionally used in stuffing recipes during the holidays.
  • Ginger is said to help your body absorb more nutrients because it's known as a carminative spice. Carminitives help to increase circulation to the digestive organs, which helps our bodies to more easily digest and assimilate our food.

What do you think we discovered first -- the health benefits of cooking with herbs or the taste that they add to foods?

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