Basil Health Benefits from a Little Leaf

My Diet Matters
basil health benefits

What is basil anyway

You know this herb! But do you know that basil offers health benefits in its little leaves? Chances are you’ve gone out of your way to add this herb to recipes and order on your pizza. Basil is an annual herb from the mint family (so you need to replant it every year) and of course, it’s used as a versatile seasoning. In addition to a pizza topping, it is frequently used in soups, salads, and on meats.

All herbs dish up some great health benefits. Herbs are rich in antioxidants which can tame inflammation and curb diseases. Basil is no exception. In addition to health promoting antioxidants such as lutein and zeaxanthin, basil has trace amounts of potassium, vitamin K, iron, beta carotene, calcium, and essential oils. By using herbs like basil in cooking, you can also easily cut down on your sodium intake! Cutting down on your sodium intake is just one of the ways to decrease your blood pressure (find out what else to eat to naturally lower your blood pressure).

Possible basil health benefits

Vision health

Two key antioxidants found in basil are lutein and zeaxanthin. In addition to basil, these antioxidants prevail in any foods that are green and leafy! Interestingly, your eyes also contain lutein and zeaxanthin-particularly in the lens and retina area. Because the human body cannot make these antioxidants, you must eat them. There is evidence that getting these specific antioxidants into your diet will help prevent or slow age related eye diseases such as cataracts and macular degeneration. In addition to adding lutein and zeaxanthin to your diet, consider a comprehensive dietary approach for healthy eyes! There is so much to healthy eating for vision.

Cardiovascular health

Fresh basil contains an essential oil called eugenol. Animal studies have found that eugenol can actually decrease blood pressure. In research labs, this compound seemed to relax blood vessels which contributed to the blood pressure reduction. Basil also contains magnesium, potassium, and calcium-all of which impact heart health. Magnesium is essential for healthy heart contractions and research indicates that adults with adequate magnesium, potassium, and calcium intake have better overall blood pressure control. As a green leafy food, basil is also a source of vitamin K which is necessary for healthy blood clotting.

Immune booster

Basil contains another antioxidant called orientin. Orientin is a compound noted for being both antiviral and antibacterial. In particular, orientin works together with other antioxidants to be therapeutic in fighting E. coli, S. aureus, and K. pneumoniae. In addition to orientin, basil is a source of plant derived beta-carotene. The beta carotene helps with maintaining healthy vision as well as boosting immunity.

Boosting immunity requires more than ingesting these compounds. But adding basil to your diet is such an easy step. Not only is it easy, it’s economical and tastes great.

Cancer fighter

The consumption of fruits, vegetables, and herbs exerts a preventive effect for many types of cancer. Many foods, including basil, seem to play a role in preventing the start of cancer as well as intervening with the progression of cancer. The research in this area is actually exhaustive. And the cancer to diet connection hinges on phytochemicals working together in plant based foods to impede both the start of cancer as well as limiting cancer cell progression. By limiting how the cancer cells grow, the cancer is limited in how it can spread. You can never go wrong with eating green foods from basil to kale. But the key is to mix up your variety and be consistent with going green. Don’t forget to add other colorful foods to your plate as well. A broad stroke of colored foods means you are getting a rainbow of health enhancing phytochemicals.

Get creative with your basil

  • use it in stir-fries
  • add to spaghetti sauce or other sauces
  • of course add it to your pizza
  • use as a sandwich filler in place of lettuce
  • add to soups
  • add it to green salads
  • make pesto with it
  • make it into tea
  • add to breakfast omelettes
  • make tomato and mozzarella salad with it

Growing basil

Growing my basil inside this fall

I tried growing basil all summer in the Chicago area. It was outside and I could not seem to get it going. It had lots of brown spots and seemed generally unhealthy. We are now into fall, and I have decided to take a crack at growing it inside. Eventually I decided to try the set up in the photo. The light is on a timer and provides the perfect spectrum of light for growth.

As you can see, it is growing very well and looks healthy. And now my herb supply is nice and clean since the squirrels, birds, and bugs are not stopping by to visit.

Take away nutrition messages

Basil is an herb that is readily accessible to most consumers. As a green leafy edible, it has lots of nutrients to boost your overall health. It has lutein and zeaxanthin for eye health. It has magnesium, vitamin K, potassium, and calcium which work together for cardiac health. Basil is a source of eugenol which also helps cardiac health by keeping high blood pressure in check. This popular herb also contains orientin, which can boost your immune system to fight off viruses and bacteria. By virtue of being green and leafy, basil falls into the category of nutrient dense edibles that are loaded with all sorts of phytochemicals. These phytochemicals are known to fight all stages of various types of cancer.

Added in normal quantities to the diet, basil is a safe and therapeutic herb. By skipping the salt shaker and adding more herbs such as basil, you can easily improve the quality of your diet. And in the process, your food will taste better as well!

Sue Rose, MS, RD, LDN

Sue Rose helps readers sort through the maze of nutrition information available to the public. As a seasoned clinical dietitian/nutritionist with decades of experience, her blogs attempt to educate and inform the public at a time when there is so much information it is often overwhelming to understand. Stay tuned for clarity on a variety of topics!

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Disclaimer

Use this information at your own risk. Although I am a licensed IL dietitian/nutritionist, I am not your dietitian. The information in my blog Chew on This located at www.mydietmatters.com is for educational and informational purposes only. It is also my own opinion and subject to change in the future. Please consult with your own medical professionals for individual treatment.