Basil Herb Benefits

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A close-up of of basil leaves.
A close-up of of basil leaves. (Image: Nome Cognome/iStock/Getty Images)

Including more herbs like basil in your diet can improve your health, concluded a study published in the Medical Journal of Australia in 2006. Basil is virtually fat-free while supplying a large concentration of essential vitamins and minerals in a small serving size. All forms of basil -- fresh, dried leaves or ground -- offer nutritional benefits, especially if you use the herb as a way to boost flavor without added salt, sugar or fat.

Excellent Source of Vitamin K

Approximately 75 percent of Americans don't consume enough vitamin K, says the Harvard School of Public Health. If your diet lacks this nutrient, you may be more likely to develop fractures from abnormally low bone density or to bleed excessively when injured. Basil is an excellent way to increase your vitamin K intake: A single tablespoon of ground basil contains 77 micrograms, 64 percent of a man's recommended daily allowance and 86 percent of a woman's. Dried basil leaves contain 36 micrograms per tablespoon, and fresh basil leaves supply 25 micrograms in every 1/4-cup serving.

Rich in Iron

Because iron is necessary for the production of red blood cells, you may develop anemia if you don't consume enough. Men and post-menopausal women need 8 milligrams of iron each day, while premenopausal women should have 18 milligrams. Inadequate iron may also contribute to the development of neurological disorders, particularly in children.

While fresh basil isn't a good source of iron, dried basil is. Dried ground basil has 4 milligrams per tablespoon, enough to fulfill 50 percent of a man's requirement and 22 percent of a woman's. Dried basil leaves contain 2 milligrams in a tablespoon.

To absorb the most iron from basil, eat it with a rich source of vitamin C. Mix it into tomato sauce or stir it into soup containing squash, potatoes or leafy greens.

High in Antioxidants

Antioxidants are phytonutrients that prevent free radicals from damaging cells or DNA -- a benefit that may lower your risk of diseases like cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer's disease. Fresh basil offers several antioxidants, including vitamin A. A 1/4-cup serving of fresh basil leaves contains 316 international units of vitamin A, 35 percent of the RDA for a man and 45 percent of the recommendation per day for a woman.

Dried basil retains only a fraction of fresh basil's vitamin A, but the dried, ground form is rich in two antioxidant minerals, copper and manganese. Additionally, all types of basil contain flavonoids -- naturally occurring phytochemicals that act as antioxidants.

Low in Sodium and Sugar

Use basil to add flavor to your cooking without using sugar and salt -- two compounds all too prevalent in the typical Western diet.

The average American consumes around 3,300 milligrams of sodium daily, 1,000 more than is advised per day for healthy adults and 1,800 milligrams more than the 1,500-milligram limit recommended for the elderly, African-Americans and people with diabetes, kidney disease or high blood pressure. The majority of Americans also get too many of their daily calories from sugar, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Basil, whether fresh or dried, contains only a trace amount of either. By seasoning your food with fresh herbs instead of table salt and using homemade mixes containing dried basil instead of prepackaged spice packets, you can dramatically decrease the amount of sodium and sugar you consume. Doing so may lower your risk of diseases like hypertension, heart disease, stroke and obesity.

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