Mint is an aromatic herb that originated in Asia and the Mediterranean region. Nutritionally, mint is rich in many vitamins and minerals. It has also been used medicinally to aid digestion and as a healing compound. Although most people only use a small amount of herbs in cooking, nutritional benefits of mint and other herbs can add up.
There are many varieties of mint, including the most popular--peppermint and spearmint. In general, the flavor of mint is sweet and cooling. All nutritional values below are based on a 100 gram portion of the herb, which is equal to about 7 tablespoons or just under ½ cup.
As with most herbs, mint is a low calorie, low-fat food, providing 48 calories and 0.6 grams of fat per 100 grams. Most of the calories are from carbohydrate sources, but mint does contain a small amount of protein as well. Mint also contributes 2 grams of dietary fiber, which is important for both intestinal and cardiovascular health. Nutrition experts recommend a daily intake of at least 25 grams of fiber per day.
Mint is especially rich in carotenes and vitamin C. Carotenes are nutrients that give plants their characteristic colors and are antioxidant precursors to vitamin A. The best known carotene for human health is beta-carotene, which has been shown to be beneficial in certain conditions such as eye health and cardiovascular disease. Mint provides 1620 micrograms of carotenes.
Twenty-seven milligrams of vitamin C are in each standard portion of mint. Vitamin C is best known for its benefits to the immune system and in the growth and repair of tissue. Some studies indicate that it may also provide protection against some forms of cancer, such as colon and rectal cancer. The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine recommends 75-90 milligrams per day for adults age 19 and older.
Mint is also a good source of several essential minerals, including magnesium, copper, iron, potassium, and calcium.
Magnesium and calcium are both important minerals for bone health. Mint provides 60 milligrams of magnesium and 200 milligrams of calcium in each 100 gram serving. Phosphorus, another mineral that maintains strong bones, is also present in the herb.
Iron is a very important mineral for healthy blood. One hundred grams of mint contains 15.6 milligrams of iron, almost meeting your daily need for the mineral. Iron absorption from mint is enhanced by its vitamin C content, making it a very good addition to a healthy diet.
Cooking with Mint
Fresh mint provides excellent flavoring for many foods. Because the herb adds flavor without sodium, it is especially beneficial if you have cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure. Try adding chopped mint to sauces for lean, red meats or to boiled vegetables including peas, green beans or new potatoes. It is also terrific in a raw, fresh vegetable salad, particularly with cucumber and tomato. Use mint as a garnish for cool summer drinks and in fruit desserts. Dried peppermint leaves make a refreshing tea that may also help to ease indigestion symptoms.