Culinary herbs and your microbiota plus Cilantro-based Chimichurri Sauce

It’s time to elevate herbs and other seasonings to a higher standing on our plates. All too often, most are relegated to a lesser role as a garnish. Yes, we can love the flavour hits they offer but in many cases, they can get dropped off the menu for everyday meals.

According to accumulating research, culinary herbs are more than just a pretty face. They’re packed with an assortment of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds including those known as polyphenols. Over the years, some polyphenols have been singled out and have made headlines, such as the resveratrol in red wine, but that’s just one of more than one of more than 8,000 types of polyphenols found in plants.

A lesser known health perk of polyphenols is their prebiotic effect on our microbiome, that collection of bacteria in our gut. These trillions of beneficial bacteria not only play a major role in maintaining a healthy immune system but they may offer advantages from head to toe-from supporting emotional health to decreasing the inflammation involved in conditions like arthritis.

A recent American study, published in the journal, Nutrients, evaluated the frequency of culinary herb use (including black pepper and garlic and onions) and its relationship to microbiome diversity and the abundance of certain species of bacteria. While the research did not link the use of herbs to increasing the diversity of bacterial species (the greater the diversity the better), it did find there were two major types of bacteria affected in those who consumed a high frequency of culinary herbs.

High frequency was defined as consuming as including them over 3 times per week. This was linked to a higher amount of Firmicutes and a smaller amount of Proteobacteria. Firmicutes, which have anti-inflammatory effects, are also known for keeping the cells of the colon wall healthy.

Proteobacteria, on the other hand, are the bad guys – the fewer in your gut, the better. They include bacteria such as salmonella and H. pylori – the culprit in the development of stomach ulcers.

At this time of year, take advantage of the availability of assorted herbs. If you can, grow them in a garden or in a pot on your kitchen windowsill, or buy them at farmers’ markets. Even supermarket herbs are better quality during the growing season.

But don’t forget, black pepper is defined as a culinary herb so keep your pepper grinder close by. It’s worth the extra steps if it’s not at the table.

I love this variation of chimichurri, the traditional Argentinian sauce. Rather than being predominately parsley, this one is chock-full of cilantro. Enjoy it with grilled vegetables, fish, poultry and the exceptional grilled meat.

Double the recipe, if you like.

Cilantro-based Chimichurri Sauce

Makes 1 cup

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp salt
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 ½ tbsp cup white vinegar
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

In a food processor, mix together red pepper flakes, salt, garlic, cilantro, parsley and vinegar until well blended. Add olive oil and blend.

Nutrition information per 2-tbsp serving
• Calories: 75
• Protein: grams
• Fat: 8 grams
• Saturated fat: 1 gram
• Carbohydrate: 1 gram
• Sodium: 70 milligrams

Tags: , ,

Categories: Nutrition News, Recipes

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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