When discussing the world's healthiest foods, fruits and vegetables are often highest on the list because of their high antioxidant capacity, vitamins, minerals and bevy of health benefits associated with consuming them.
Fresh herbs are often forgotten on that list, however they can be just as essential to a healthy diet as fruits and vegetables and also offer a wide array of health benefits as well.
Mint has one of the highest antioxidant capacities of any food. Learning how to use fresh herbs and spices like mint when cooking can also help to cut down on sodium intake.
Mint, also known as mentha, is actually a genus or group of around 15-20 types of plants including peppermint and spearmint. Mint oil is often used in toothpaste, gum, candy and beauty products while the leaves are used either fresh or dried for teas and food.
This Medical News Today Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods. It provides a nutritional breakdown of mint and an in-depth look at its possible health benefits, how to incorporate more mint into your diet and any potential health risks associated with consuming mint.
Possible health benefits of mint
Mint, also known as mentha, is actually a genus or group of around 15-20 types of plants including peppermint and spearmint.
Allergies: Mint plants contain an antioxidant known as rosmarinic acid, which has been studied for its effectiveness in relieving seasonal allergy symptoms. Because of rosmarinic acid's anti-inflammatory properties, rosmarinic acid has been shown to be a promising treatment.4
Breast feeding: Although breastfeeding can be a natural and wonderful experience for new mothers, it can cause damage and pain to nipples. A study published in April 2007 in the International Breastfeeding Journal suggested that peppermint water is effective in preventing nipple cracks and nipple pain in lactating primiparous women.7
Common cold: Mint contains menthol, which is a natural decongestant that helps to break up phlegm and mucus. Mint can also be effective, especially when combined with tea for relieving sore throats.
Indigestion and gas: Mint is a calming and soothing herb that has been used for thousands of years to aid with upset stomach or indigestion. Mint is thought to improve the flow of bile through the stomach, which helps to speed and ease digestion. Peppermint is also thought to relieve pain and discomfort from gas and bloating. Peppermint tea is a common home remedy for flatulence.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): The use of peppermint oil has been found to be an effective and safe treatment for those suffering from abdominal pain or discomfort associated with IBS. 2,5 Enteric-coated capsules are most effective and prevent the capsule from dissolving in the stomach, which could cause heartburn.
Pain relief: Researchers at Newcastle University carried out a study on mice, testing the pain relieving properties of Hyptis crenata - otherwise known as Brazilian mint. They found that a 'tea' made from Brazilian mint was as effective as a synthetic aspirin-style drug Indometacin.8
Skin: When applied topically in oil, ointment or lotion, mint has the effect of calming and cooling skin affected by insect bites, rash or other reactions.
Oral health: Mint is a natural anti-microbial agent and breath freshener.
Nutritional breakdown of mint
Two tablespoons of mint provides 2 calories, 0.12 grams of protein, 0.48 grams carbohydrates, 0.03 grams of fat and 0.30 grams of fiber. Mint contains small amounts of potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin C and vitamin A.3
How to incorporate more mint into your diet
Mint can be used to flavor dishes accompanying lamb, soups and vegetable salads.
Adding mint is a great way to add flavor to a dish or beverage without adding extra calories, sugar or sodium. Mint leaves are a tender herb (along with cilantro and basil) that have gentle stems and are best to add either raw or near the end of cooking in order to maintain their delicate flavor and texture.
When buying mint, look for bright, unblemished leaves. Store in a plastic bag or loose plastic wrap in the refrigerator for up to one week.
Mint is relatively easy to grow and can even be grown in small pots on a sunny windowsill. Growing mint in your garden can help ward off ants and flies.
When preparing mint, use a sharp knife and cut gently. Using a dull knife or over-chopping will bruise the herb and much of the flavor will be misplaced onto the cutting board surface.1
Mint is commonly used to flavor Middle Eastern dishes, such as lamb, soups and vegetable salads.
Try a mint limeade by mixing together your lime juice, sugar or stevia and muddled mint leaves. Top off with filtered water and ice cubes.
Incorporate mint into a fresh fruit salsa with chopped apples, pear, lemon or lime juice, jalapeno and honey. Serve with cinnamon pita chips or on top of baked chicken.
Jazz up your water by adding mint leaves and cucumber for a refreshing treat.
Add a few chopped mint leaves to your next chocolate chip cookie dough.
Pour hot water over mint leaves and steep for 5-6 minutes for homemade mint tea. Try using chocolate mint leaves for a twist.
Chop mint and toss with fresh pineapple for a quick snack.
Try these healthy and delicious recipes developed by registered dietitians:
- Superfood shamrock smoothie
- Asparagus mint salad with lemon vinaigrette
- Choco-mint bites
- BBQ lamb with yogurt mint sauce
- Ginger, mint and orange iced tea
- Matcha mint chocolate chip smoothie bowl
- Fresh mint lemongrass tea.
Potential health risks of consuming mint
Do not use mint in an attempt to soothe digestive issues if your symptoms of are related to a gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD, which may exacerbate your condition.
Peppermint oil, if taken in large doses, can be toxic. Pure menthol is poisonous and should never be taken internally.
Do not apply mint oil to the face of an infant or small child, as it may cause spasms that inhibit breathing.
Use caution with mint products if you have or have previously had gallstones.
Speak with your health care provider to determine whether any of your medications could interact with mint or mint oil.
Information about other foods
If you've enjoyed reading about the possible health benefits of mint, why not take a look at our collection of articles about other foods.
Written by Megan Ware RDN LD