Mint, A Healthy Food That Is Most Often ForgottenNutrition
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
Some healthy foods are hidden right beneath our noses. Mint is one of those foods.
There’s a reason why toothpastes have a mint flavor...to freshen your breath! And what you may not know is that mint has many other health benefits. In fact you may want to include it in your life beyond just your toothpaste.
The botanical name for mint is Mentha. This aromatic herb comes in many varieties, some of them believed to be native to Eurasia, North America, southern Africa and Australia.
Some types of mint include:
- Banana (smells like banana, reportedly from France)
- Moroccan (very popular for making tea)
- Egyptian (similar flavor to apple mint)
- Lavender (red-stemmed, like peppermint, with floral overtones)
- Pineapple (a hybrid derived from apple mint)
- Chocolate (has a chocolate-like flavor, along with the mint)
- Apple (nuances of apple. If you allow it to bloom, it may produce pale pink and white flowers (sometimes used for ornamental purposes))
- Water (commonly grows in ditches)
The types of mint you may be most familiar with are spearmint and peppermint. Reportedly, the U.S. produces more than 70% of the world’s peppermint and spearmint.
Peppermint is a natural cross between spearmint and watermint.
Mint reportedly has one of the highest antioxidant capacities of any food! This means it may help protect you from a myriad of diseases.
So let’s take a closer look at some of the potential health powers of mint.
Mint may help with the common cold.
It’s cold and flu season, and many of us are suffering from sore throat and congestion. Mint is a natural expectorant (an agent that helps expel mucus and other materials from the lungs and the rest of the respiratory tract). So mint may help you breathe better. Mint contains menthol, a natural decongestant that may help break up and thin out phlegm and mucus. Menthol may also help soothe a sore throat. And mint is known to have antimicrobial properties, which may help protect you from getting sick.
Mint is also rich in rosmarinic acid, which is known to have anti-allergic properties. It may even help reduce the symptoms of asthma.
Rosmarinic acid is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant that may help prevent cell damage caused by free radicals.
Mint may help with tummy issues, like indigestion, gas and even irritable bowel syndrome.
When we have an upset stomach, we often immediately reach for the antacids in our medicine cabinets. But perhaps we should be reaching into our kitchen’s spice and herb cabinet when our stomach feels uneasy.
“Menthol and methyl salicylate, the main ingredients in peppermint, have antispasmodic effects, with calming effects on the gastrointestinal tract,” according to The University of Maryland Medical Center. “Several studies support the use of peppermint for indigestion and irritable bowel syndrome.”
In addition to this, peppermint may calm the muscles of the stomach and improve the flow of bile which the body uses to digest fats. This means food may pass through the stomach more quickly.
The antimicrobial properties in mint may also help prevent the growth of harmful bacteria that can cause an upset stomach and diarrhea.
Feeling stressed? Try mint.
Some reports say a compress of mint leaves may help relieve a tension headache. Drinking mint tea may also have calming, soothing effects that can help with stress and anxiety.
The next time you are feeling stressed at work, have a cup of mint tea. Instead of having a glass of wine when you get home, go for a cup of mint tea or a bath with a few drops of mint oil.
The scent of the mint will help open up your airways and help you breathe better and deeper. And better breathing helps with stress!
“Peppermint in particular helps to relieve stress-related symptoms such as migraine, headaches and stomach upsets,” according to one report. “Peppermint tea has a number of other benefits, including curing nausea, relieving menstrual cramps and other muscle spasms, soothing skin rashes, boosting alertness, and even controlling herpes simplex.”
Peppermint oil may help with exercise performance.
A study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that oral administration of peppermint oil in male university students improved grip force, standing vertical jump, standing long jump and breathing rates.
This may have to do with peppermint’s positive influence on the respiratory tract.
Skin issues? Aches and pains? Try mint.
Peppermint oil is sometimes applied directly to the skin for irritations such as insect bites and rashes. It has a calming and cooling effect. It may also help with muscle aches.
(However, be aware that peppermint oil applied to the face of infants can cause life-threatening breathing problems).
Does your mouth need a little bit of TLC? Try mint.
Since mint is a natural antiseptic, it may help prevent the overgrowth of bacteria in the mouth that not only causes bad breath but also gingivitis (inflammation of the gums). Chew on a few mint leaves or simply add them to your water.
It has been reported that during the Middle Ages, powdered mint leaves were used to whiten teeth.
Breastfeeding mothers may benefit from using peppermint water.
Topically applying peppermint water may prevent nipple cracks in first-time breastfeeding mothers, according to one study.
Peppermint water is popularly used for the prevention of nipple cracks, in the north west of Iran.
In the study, some of the women used an application of peppermint water after each feed. The control group used an application of expressed breast milk after each feed. The peppermint water group was instructed to put soaked cotton with peppermint water on the nipples and areola after washing the nipples with water, following every breastfeed from day 1 to day 14 and wash before the next feed. The same instruction was given to the expressed breast milk group, with the difference being that milk was used to soak nipples in place of peppermint water.
The peppermint water group overall had less areola and nipple cracks.
Now let’s check out some of the nutrient content in peppermint.
- Calcium, 8 mg. Of course, calcium is important for building and maintaining strong bones and teeth. This mineral is also important for maintaining hair and nail health in perimenopausal and menopausal women. Adequate calcium intake may also decrease your risk for colorectal cancer.
- Magnesium, 3 mg. This must-have mineral helps with blood pressure regulation and also has antioxidant properties. Several studies have also shown an improvement in the severity of symptoms of depression when study participants were given 125-300 mg of magnesium with each meal and at bedtime.
- Potassium, 18 mg. Adults generally need about 4700 -5100 mg. of this must-have mineral daily. It helps keep blood pressure under control, may help reduce kidney stones and may prevent bone loss as you age. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), potassium may help reduce osteoporosis and prevent heart failure.
- Folate, 4 mcg. Folate (also called vitamin B9) is a very important nutrient, especially for pregnant women. Folate may also help prevent cancer and heart disease and improve mental health. A study from Harvard Health reported folate may also be useful in treating symptoms of depression.
- Vitamin A, 136 IU. This vitamin is an antioxidant that supports the immune system and is good for skin and eye health. Vitamin A also promotes cell growth.
So how can you incorporate more mint into your diet?
Other than drinking mint tea, a super easy way to include mint in your diet is by adding fresh mint leaves to water or even your iced tea.
You can also add mint to smoothies.
I am excited to try this Healthy Mint Chocolate Chip Smoothie.
- 1 small frozen banana
- 1 1/2 cups milk (can use unsweetened vanilla almond milk)
- 1 cup fresh spinach
- 1/4 small/medium sized avocado
- 20-30 fresh mint leaves
- 1 scoop vanilla protein powder or collagen peptides (optional)
- 1/2 cup crushed ice or more, if you'd like it thicker
- 1 tablespoon cacao nibs or chocolate chips
- whipped cream or whipped coconut cream for garnish (optional)
And you likely already know that lamb and mint make the perfect combo in the kitchen. To treat yourself to a delicious, home-cooked meal, check out these grilled lamb chops with mint.
Any precautions you should take regarding mint?
Remember, not to give peppermint to an infant or small child. Consult your pediatrician first.
Mint may also cause certain drug interactions. For example, be mindful if you take drugs that reduce stomach acid or treat diabetes.
Do not take peppermint or drink peppermint tea if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD -- a condition where stomach acids back up into the esophagus) or hiatal hernia.
Some pregnant women sip peppermint tea to help get relief from nausea caused by morning sickness, but talk to your doctor first.
And keep in mind, peppermint may make gallstones worse and may cause heartburn in some people.
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.