A sprig of mint in your iced tea isn't just a delicious cliche, it's a simple way to boost your nutrition with every sip. Just 2 tablespoons of fresh, minced mint leaves are packed with vitamins, minerals and essential nutrients. Tea isn't the only way to enjoy the benefits of mint, and the instantly recognizable zing of spearmint isn't the only variety you should get to know. Try apple or ginger mint in fruit salads, banana mint in baked goods like cookies and chocolate mint for a completely guilt-free indulgence on ice cream or in coffee. All types of mint provide similar nutrition. Look for them at your local farmers market or grow them in your garden or porch containers.
A 2-tablespoon serving of mint leaves provides 9 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A, 3 percent of your daily vitamin C requirement and 3 percent of the RDA of folate. Vitamin A promotes eye health and supports the immune and reproductive systems. If your diet lacks adequate vitamin A, you might be more likely to develop vision disorders like cataracts or age-related macular degeneration. Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant and may help decrease your risk of heart disease, cancer, hypertension and osteoarthritis. The folate in mint keeps the heart and nervous system healthy and might help prevent depression. The vitamin content in fresh herbs such as mint leaves decreases the longer the herb is exposed to light, heat or air. Keep mint sprigs in a cool, dark place and use them within a few days of purchase or harvest.
Eating a few tablespoons of mint leaves provides you with 6 percent of the recommended daily allowance of manganese, a mineral that nearly 40 percent of Americans may not get enough of, reports the University of Maryland Medical Center. A deficiency in manganese may cause infertility, increased premenstrual syndrome symptoms, weakness, seizures and a higher risk of osteoporosis. Mint leaves are also high in iron, with each 2-tablespoon serving providing 17 percent of a man's RDA of iron and 7.5 percent of a woman's daily requirement. You'll absorb more of the iron in mint if you eat the herb with meat or a rich source of vitamin C. Toss minced mint leaves with diced oranges or melons, or roast pork or lamb with mint sprigs.
According to a 2003 study published in "The Journal of Nutrition," mint contains a higher concentration of antioxidant compounds than many other commonly used herbs, including thyme, chamomile, nutmeg, cayenne and ginger. The researchers concluded that eating herbs like mint regularly may be a superior source of antioxidants when compared to fruits and vegetables. Mint is especially rich in perillyl alcohol. According to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, perillyl alcohol is a compound that may help prevent and treat cancer by inhibiting the growth of cancerous cells and causing tumor cells to die, though more research is needed.
Mint leaves are an especially good source of tryptophan, containing enough in 2 tablespoons to fulfill 214 percent of your daily requirement. Tryptophan is one of the nine essential amino acids that the body needs in order to synthesize protein. It is crucial for the production of niacin and serotonin. Niacin, or vitamin B-3, aids in energy metabolism and the production of hormones. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for regulating your moods and sleep patterns. Receiving a healthy dose of serotonin from mint may help you sleep better and keep you calmer and happier during the day.
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Nutrient Data for 02065, Spearmint, Fresh
- National Gardening Association: Edible of the Month - Mint
- Quick Nutrition Facts: Spearmint, Fresh
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Tryptophan - Overview
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin A (Retinol)
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Folate
- Cooperative Extension Service, University of Kentucky, College of Agriculture: Preserving Nutrients in Food
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Manganese
- Mayo Clinic.com: Dietary Fiber - Essential for a Healthy Diet
- Nutrition Reviews: Health Benefits of Dietary Fiber
- Macalester.edu: What is Serotonin and What Does it Do?
- The Journal of Nutrition: Several Culinary and Medicinal Herbs are Important Sources of Dietary Antioxidants
- Psychology Today: Nature's Bounty - Sage Advice
- Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center: Perillyl Alcohol
Michelle Kerns writes for a variety of print and online publications and specializes in literature and science topics. She has served as a book columnist since 2008 and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Kerns studied English literature and neurology at UC Davis.