Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Remember That Herbs & Spices Are YOUR NEW BEST FRIENDS

Do you ever find yourself reaching for the salt shaker to punch up the flavor of your dinner? Instead of adding salt to your tacos or chicken, try reaching for the spice rack. Studies show that certain spices not only bump up the flavor and make your kitchen smell delicious; they can also keep you healthy.

Researchers have found that the enzymes and oils that give spices their flavors and preservative properties also contain powerful anti-inflammatory characteristics that can benefit our bodies. This is an important benefit since inflammation is thought to underlie a slew of chronic diseases--including cancer, diabetes, allergies and heart disease. Tapping into the benefits of these spices only requires a willingness to experiment with their different flavors. Here is a guide to the five most healthful spices, along with some advice on how to prepare them.

Turmeric: This bittersweet root of the Curcuma longa plant is typically dried and ground into powder. Researchers have found that curcumin, the active nutrient in turmeric interferes with the growth of tumors and may inhibit the formation of plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. Turmeric has the ability to "turn off" inflammation in the body and pairing it with white meats, potatoes and rice is a great way to test out the flavor of this health-enhancing spice.
Cayenne Pepper: The ground, red chili peppers have a spicy and sharp bite and contain capsaicin, a phytochemical that has been linked to weight loss, pain relief and cardiovascular health. A number of studies suggest that cayenne pepper can help with arthritis pain by blocking pain signals in the body. A little goes a long way and adds rich flavor and color to fish and tomato based soups or stews.
Cinnamon: Warm, sweet and slightly bitter, cinnamon is renowned for lowering blood glucose and LDL ("bad") cholesterol. Recent long-term-blood-glucose-tests show signs that this spice may help treat type II diabetes.  A ½ teaspoon daily is recommended for added cardiovascular health -- try adding it to your morning oatmeal or pancake batter.
Ginger:  Known as the "universal medicine" for its anti-inflammatory and soothing properties, fresh or dried ginger has a warm, somewhat flowery taste. Many studies show that ginger helps to ease nausea, morning and motion sickness. Most recently, a set of Japanese animal studies published in The International Journal of Cancer suggested ginger may also prevent colon and lung cancer.  It pairs well with honey, lemon and lime.  A wonderful (and beneficial) warm-up for a cold night is fresh ginger, grated into warm water with a wedge of lime.

Cumin: When added to hot milk, this bitter, pungent and slightly sweet spice aids in the treatment of the common cold. Cumin also eases stomach pain and studies suggest that it may reduce the risk of liver cancer. This strong spice can be added early to meat, potato or bean dishes to add a mellow, rich flavor.
For the freshest flavor, try buying your spices whole--cumin seeds, cinnamon sticks, ginger root--and grate, slice or grind them yourself in a coffee grinder. (However, you might want to have a grinder dedicated to the task so you can avoid, say, turmeric-flavored coffee.)

Source: Natural Health Journal 2010; 40.2: 62-65

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