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Ask the Diva: Are Essential Oils Nutritious?

Are essential oils more nutritious than the foods they're made from? Nutrition Diva answers a reader question

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
December 6, 2013

Q. "How do essential oils compare to the foods they're made from? I've read that essential oils have much higher levels of antioxidants than foods. Does adding a couple of drops of cinnamon oil to my oatmeal beat adding a tablespoon of ground cinnamon? I know it adds more flavor!"

A. Many antioxidant comparisons are based on ORAC scores, a laboratory test that measures total antioxidant capacity of a food. But these scores always refer to 100 gram quantities, which can make comparisons misleading.

Fresh oregano, for example, has an ORAC value of 13,970 per 100 grams, while dried oregano has a much higher value of 175,295. But when you compare 2 tablespoons of fresh oregano to 1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano, which is the approximate equivalant, the ORAC values are almost identical--about 900 per serving. Oregano oil would be even more concentrated than dried oregano, but you'd use even less - so it's probably a wash.

Besides, just because something has twice the antioxidant capacity doesn't necessarily mean you get twice the benefit. There appears to be an upper limit beyond which additional antioxidants don't do much good. 

See also: Can You Get Too Many Antioxidants?

 

But, of course, antioxidants aren't the only beneficial thing in foods.  For example, although they may be a concentrated source of antioxididants, essential oils contain no fiber. Other nutrients, such as water-soluble vitamins and minerals are also largely left behind in the distillation process that produces essential oils.  

So what does this mean for your oatmeal? In addition to adding great flavor, both ground cinnamon and cinnamon oil have been shown to help regulate blood sugar. More research is needed to confirm these effects - and to establish whether one works better than the other. For now, it's an open question. Fortunately, both options are a great way to spice up your morning. 

Cinnamon image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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