Herbs and Spices for a Healthy Vegan Diet
Herbs and spices are a tasty and healthy addition to any vegan diet. In addition to providing incredible flavour combinations, there are several health benefits of consuming herbs and spices on a regular basis. This is why I consider herbs and spices to be one of the food groups of a healthy vegan diet.
This page covers:
- What are Herbs? What are Spices?
- Health Benefits of Herbs and Spices
- Nutrition Content of Herbs and Spices
- Why It’s Important to Eat Herbs and Spices as a Vegan
- List of Herbs and Spices to Include on a Vegan Diet
- How to Include More Herbs and Spices into your Diet
- Recipes that Include Herbs and Spices from Lettuce Veg Out
Confused about what nutrients are essential for adult vegans? Grab my free, 3 page vegan nutrition cheat sheet that outlines 9 essential nutrients!
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What are Herbs? What are Spices?
Herbs are plants that are used to flavour food. Specifically, herbs are leaves, flowers or stems of a plant. There are numerous herbs available, some of which are commonly used, and others you may have never heard of!
Spices are an aromatic plant substance used to flavour foods. While herbs are leaves, flowers or stems of plants, spices can be any part of a plant including the root, seed, fruit or bark, but excluding the leaves (leaves are always considered herbs).
Health Benefits of Herbs and Spices
Research is constantly being done on the health benefits of herbs and spices and the purpose of this page is to give a general overview.
Herbs and spices have been found to contain an array of antioxidants 1, 2, 3. Antioxidants are thought to be beneficial for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer, as well as inflammation (and inflammatory diseases) 2, 3.
Additionally, leafy green herbs often provide similar benefits to other common types of leafy green vegetables.
Spices are found to have some of the highest antioxidant contents of any category of food (although it does vary widely depending on the spice) 3. Typically, the darker or more pungent the colour of the spice is, the more antioxidant compounds it will contain.
Research is not yet advanced enough to say if herbs or spices (as a general group) or any one herb or spice alone can make a significant impact on disease 1. The research is not strong enough to make a recommendation to consume herbs or spices for disease prevention or treatment.
Are There Certain Herbs and Spices that are the Healthiest?
My main philosophy about nutrition is to eat a variety of foods that you enjoy. While specific herbs or spices may benefit individuals, consuming a range of herbs and spices provides the most well-rounded health benefits.
There’s no one single food that people must all consume for optimal health. Use herbs and spices you enjoy while taking opportunities to discover new flavours.
Aiming for a variety of herbs and spices would provide the widest range of antioxidants and other plant compounds that could benefit health.
Nutrition Content of Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices are often consumed in very small quantities so don’t add a lot of protein, fat or carbohydrates to the diet.
As noted above, some leafy green herbs may provide similar nutrients to other leafy green vegetables such as fibre, magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, beta carotene, potassium, iron and calcium. However, if you are only adding a small amount to a meal, the total nutrients the body gets will remain fairly low.
The category of spices includes such a wide range of plants that are quite diverse. Apart from stating spices would contain some amount of antioxidant or phytochemical/polyphenol compounds, spices could provide a wide range of nutrients. Spices are consumed in small amounts so the total content of essential nutrients they provide might be quite low. However, spices are a category of food that can pack in quite a lot of antioxidants in a small quantity.
Why It’s Important to Eat Herbs and Spices as a Vegan
I consider herbs and spices one of the six food groups for a healthy plant-based diet for two reasons:
- Herbs and spices contain many antioxidants and other phytochemicals that can benefit health.
- Flavouring food and enjoying the taste of our meals is an essential component to a balanced and sustainable eating pattern.
Herbs and spices can provide a considerable amount of antioxidants in fairly small quantities. More importantly, they make our food taste good. I truly believe there’s no point eating foods that we don’t enjoy the taste of. So what better way to flavour vegan meals than with tasty plants?!
When it comes to vegan nutrition, a focus on whole foods can be helpful for overall health. While legumes, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds can be tasty, they often require a boost of flavour to make them into truly delicious meals! Enter herbs and spices; they provide a ton of delicious and nutritious flavour!
List of Herbs and Spices to Include on a Vegan Diet
The following are lists of herbs and spices I consider essential for vegan cooking.
Spices and dry herbs are easy to store and last for long periods of time. You can store them in a sealed container or jar in a cool dry place. Spices and dry herbs shouldn’t go “bad”, but they will lose flavour over time and can become stale.
You don’t need to purchase all the items on the list below at once. Instead, start with a few and add as needed based on the recipes you’re making.
A List of Essential Herbs for Healthy Vegan Cooking
I also purchase the following herbs fresh for certain recipes:
- Thai basil (when I can find it, which isn’t often)
- Cilantro (aka coriander leaf)
Other options for fresh herbs are:
- Curry leaves
- Thyme (and lemon thyme)
When it comes down to it, people have personal preferences for herbs. Keep your favourites on hand. From experience, the herbs that are most common in recipes, and therefore would be the best to have on hand as a staple herb are:
- Basil (dry or fresh)
- Parsley (fresh)
- Cilantro (fresh)
- Thyme (dry or fresh)
Please note I’m focusing on North American cuisine; if you cook dishes from other cultures more often, a different repertoire of herbs and spices might be more helpful.
A List of Essential Spices for Healthy Vegan Cooking
I have quite a robust spice cupboard at home and it keeps growing. My current spice cupboard includes:
- Cayenne pepper
- Celery seed
- Chili flakes
- Chili powder
Other options for spices are:
- Star anise
- Mustard seed/ mustard powder
- Caraway seed
- Fennel seed
- Chinese five-spice powder
- Herbs de Provence
When I look at what spices I use most often, the best place to start stocking your spice cupboard might be:
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
- Black pepper
This list might be biased to the types of recipes and spices I gravitate towards. You may very well have different tastes and can stockpile the spices you see most commonly in recipes you are interested in trying!
How to Include More Herbs and Spices into your Diet
Every single thing I cook includes at least a few herbs and spices. I grew up eating flavourful foods and I’m not about to stop now!
My top tips for including more herbs and spices in your diet are:
- Keep a variety of dry herbs and spices on hand: Make sure you are stocked up on your favourites and don’t hesitate to try new ones every so often!
- Try a new recipe each moth: New recipes, especially if they are different from your usual choices, can broaden your horizon of herbs, spices and flavour in general.
- When buying fresh herbs, have a plan to use the whole bunch: Fresh herbs are often sold in large bunches so be sure to have a couple recipes ready to go whenever you buy fresh herbs.
- Toss fresh herbs and spices onto salads, sandwiches and wraps: While it might not be common to add spices and herbs to these meals, it can add a boost of flavour and get you out of a boring lunch rut.
- Try international cuisines: While I certainly cook dishes from around the world, I’m no expert in world cuisine. Trying dishes from different countries/ regions can expand your horizons, and spice collection (if you want to expand it).
Recipes that Include Herbs and Spices from Lettuce Veg Out
Most recipes posted here at Lettuce Veg Out include at least a few herbs or spices. However, some recipes contain more than others so you can check out the latest recipes that feature herbs and spices.
A few of my favourites are:
Summary: Herbs and Spices for a Healthy Vegan Diet
Herbs and spices are an important food group for a healthy vegan diet. Not only do they pack in a larger amount of antioxidants compared to most other foods, they make food delicious and exciting. Building a spice selection to cook with at home can be the difference between a boring and bland vegan diet, and one that is flavourful and interesting!
Confident you're meeting nutrient needs as an adult vegan? If not, grab my free, 3 page vegan nutrition cheat sheet that outlines 9 essential nutrients for adult vegans!
Learn more about the Vegan Nutrition Cheat Sheet!
- Health benefits of herbs and spices: the past, the present, the future
- Antioxidant Potential of Spices and Their Active Constituents
- The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide
- Spices for Prevention and Treatment of Cancers
- A High Antioxidant Spice Blend Attenuates Postprandial Insulin and Triglyceride Responses and Increases Some Plasma Measures of Antioxidant Activity in Healthy, Overweight Men
Please note that this is a curated list of references for the topics above and is not intended to be comprehensive.
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