In the Washington, DC area we are blessed with more than a dozen farmers' markets. One local farm I frequent has a hydroponic greenhouse, so I can get fresh basil all year long. I've always been curious, though, how hydroponic basil--grown in water--compared nutritionally to basil grown in soil. Finally, a study was published comparing the two, which I feature in my 1-min. video Is Hydroponic Basil as Healthy?
The hydroponic basil won hands down! It had more antioxidant power and more key vitamins and phytonutrients. Why? Because the basil doesn't like being grown in water. It's the same reason many organic greens are healthier. Organic plants get bitten by bugs and, in defense, cruciferous greens such as kale and collards manufacture more of those wonderful glucosinolate compounds I featured in my videos, Breast Cancer Stem Cells vs. Broccoli and The Best Detox. Likewise, under the environmental stress of drowning hydroponically, basil releases more phenolic antioxidant phytonutrients like rosmarinic acid to protect itself, and we can reap the benefits. For more on these compounds, see my 2-min. video Phytochemicals: The Nutrition Facts Missing From the Label.
If you're not lucky enough to live near a farm stand and too busy to grow your own, dried herbs and spices are surprisingly healthful. In fact, in a comparison of the Antioxidant Content of 3,139 Foods, ounce for ounce dried herbs and spices average the greatest antioxidant punch of all! Now even though herbs and spices may have 10 times the antioxidant power of nuts and seeds for example, it's easy to eat a few ounces of nuts in one sitting, but not so easy to eat a few ounces of nutmeg. However, some herbs and spices are so off-the-charts amazing that just a small pinch can go a long way. Check out my video Antioxidants in a Pinch. It's one of my all-time favorite NutritionFacts.org videos (I like the ones where I'm able to offer practical advice).
Isn't it enough to just eat a variety of fruits and vegetables? Should we really go out of our way to shift towards choosing the most antioxidant-packed? There is growing evidence that choosing foods particularly rich in antioxidants offers health benefits above and beyond quantity. For more, view my videos Anti-Inflammatory Antioxidants, The Power of NO, and Bulking Up on Antioxidants.
Happy Labor Day week!
-Michael Greger, M.D.
Image credit: Augapfel / Flickr