The health benefits of fresh herbs are often overlooked when discussing the world's healthiest foods, however they can be just as essential to a healthy diet as fruits and vegetables because of their high antioxidant capacities. Learning how to use fresh herbs and spices like cilantro when cooking can also help to cut down on sodium intake.
Often known in the UK as coriander, cilantro comes from the plant Coriandrum sativum. In the United States, the leaves of the plant are referred to as cilantro (the Spanish translation) and the seeds are referred to as coriander. Cilantro is also commonly referred to as Chinese parsley. This article focuses on the health benefits of the leaves of the Coriandrum plant.
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods.
Nutritional breakdown of cilantro
One-fourth cup of cilantro (about 4 grams) contains 1 calorie, 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of carbs, 0 grams of protein, 2% daily value of vitamin C and 5% daily value of vitamin A. It also contains vitamin K and small amounts of folate, potassium, manganese and choline, as well as the antioxidants beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein and zeaxanthin.2
Possible health benefits of consuming cilantro
Learning how to use fresh herbs and spices like cilantro when cooking can help to cut down on sodium intake.
Consuming plant-based foods of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions. Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods like cilantro decreases the risk of obesity, overall mortality, diabetes and heart disease while promoting a healthy skin and hair, increased energy and overall lower weight.
Natural preservative: Because of its high antioxidant content, oil extracted from the leaves of cilantro has been shown to inhibit unwanted oxidation processes when added to other foods, delaying or preventing spoilage. Cilantro leaves have also been found to have an antibacterial effect against Salmonella.
Lead detoxification: Cilantro has been found to suppress lead accumulation in rats, which gives promise for the use of cilantro to combat lead and other heavy metal toxicity. Because of its chelation abilities, cilantro is also being studied as a natural water purifier.
The antimicrobial and heavy metal chelation factors of cilantro have led to its recent use in many "detoxification" juices and drinks.
How to incorporate more cilantro into your diet
Adding cilantro is a great way to add flavor to a dish or beverage without adding extra calories, fat or sodium. Cilantro is a tender herb (along with mint and basil) with gentle leaves that are best to add either raw or near the end of cooking in order to maintain their delicate flavor and texture. Cilantro is relatively easy to grow and can even be grown in small pots on a sunny windowsill.
Cilantro pairs well with many dishes, especially Mexican dishes and those with beans, cheese, eggs and fish.
When preparing cilantro, separate the leaves from the stems and only use the leaves. Use a sharp knife and cut gently. Cutting with a dull knife or over-chopping will bruise the herb and much of the flavor will be misplaced onto the cutting board surface.1
Cilantro pairs well with many dishes, especially Mexican dishes and those with beans, cheese, eggs and fish. Cilantro is also great with creamy vegetable dips and as a topping or garnish for soups and salads.
Take a look at these healthful recipes using cilantro and experiment with cilantro into your own recipes at home:
It is OK to use dried herbs and spices as well! One study from the UCLA School of Medicine reported that 9 popular herbs and spices including cilantro, basil, dill, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, oregano, and parsley, were able to retain their antioxidant capacity during the drying process.2
Potential health risks of consuming cilantro
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.
Written by: Megan Ware, RDN, LD, registered dietitian and nutritionist