The weather outside may be dull and dreary, but you don’t have to be. Each time you stop for a meal, add a little spice to your life. It won’t just brighten up your day but it will also to improve your health.
The antioxidants from spices and herbs can protect us from various diseases, according to researchers at the University of Wollongong in the August 2006 edition of the Australian Medical Journal.
They suggest that we replace salt, sugar, and foods with added saturated fats with herbs and spices.
Suzanna Zick, a naturopathic physician and researcher at the University of Michigan Health System says, “Adding herbs and spices can help you maintain a healthy weight. Plus, they can help prevent certain cancers, and even lower blood pressure, control blood sugar and improve cardiovascular health.”
Authors in the July 2006 edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition agree, stating that herbs and spices have the highest antioxidant activity of any food type, including fruits and vegetables.
As little as one gram (about half a teaspoon) of cloves will contribute more dietary antioxidant than a half-cup serving of blueberries or cranberries -two foods famous for their antioxidant levels.
And half a teaspoon of dried oregano contains the antioxidant of a half-cup of sweet potatoes.
In fact, herbs and spices make up more than half of the top 20 antioxidant foods!
Cinnamon is the richest spice in antioxidants with the most benefits. It protects against Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
A 2003 study found that eating just half a teaspoon each day lowers your blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.
Cinnamon also acts as an antiinflammatory, relieving arthritis. Amazingly, some studies show that just sniffing a bowl of cinnamon can improve your mental alertness, memory and concentration.
To get the benefits of cinnamon, first take deep whiff and then sprinkle some on your oatmeal, toast or cereal to jump-start your day.
Later, add a spoon to some applesauce or fruit.
Ginger is another spice with health benefits.
Ginger reduces motion sickness, morning sickness and intestinal gas and may relieve the pain and swelling of arthritis. Gingerols in ginger can help control nausea, but be careful -over 6,000 mg can bother your stomach.
Because ginger can affect your blood’s ability to clot, be sure to talk to your doctor if you’re going to have surgery or are taking blood thinners or aspirin.
For motion sickness, try chewing a piece of candied ginger. (Check the label -some use artificial flavouring).
Or, add a quarter teaspoon of ground ginger to carrots, sweet potatoes, or fresh fruit.
Turmeric contains curcumin, which can inhibit the growth of cancer cells by stopping genes from mutating.
Bharat Aggarwal, PhD, a professor of cancer medicine at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center suggests that we get 500 to 800 milligrams a day. Turmeric also protects blood vessels, reducing heart attack risk. And, it reduces back pain because it’s an anti-inflammatory.
However, unlike the previously mentioned spices, you can’t just sprinkle turmeric on your food when it’s time to eat. You have to cook with it.
For an Indian flavour, add a quarter teaspoon turmeric to boiling water when cooking one cup of rice.
Chili powder is another spice with added benefits.
Research shows that capsaicin, found in chili peppers, has an antiinflammatory effect, which may help ease arthritic swelling and pain.
Winter is a great time to warm up with a hot bowl of chili.
Or, for a hot new dish, sprinkle a few shakes of chili powder on some baked French fries.
Like chili powder, paprika and cayenne pepper also contain capsaicin, whose antioxidant effects may lower your risk of cancer.
For a spicy popcorn snack, combine 1.5 teaspoons paprika, half a teaspoon ground thyme and half a teaspoon ground red pepper as a popcorn topping.
Oregano has the highest antioxidant activity of 27 fresh culinary herbs, gram for gram, according to a USDA study.
To spice up a can of tomato soup, add three-quarters of a teaspoon of oregano or add half a teaspoon to two cups of pasta or pizza sauce.
Garlic helps your heart. Brigham Young University researchers found that eating garlic regularly can lower your total cholesterol and triglyceride levels by an average of 10%.
Garlic has been shown to destroy cancer cells.
According to Karen Collins, RD, nutrition advisor to the American Institute for Cancer Research, “Studies suggest that one or two cloves weekly provide cancer-protective benefits.”
When munching on veggies, add minced garlic and chopped cucumber to plain yogurt for a light veggie dip.
Be sure to let garlic sit for 10 to 15 minutes after chopping and before cooking so the active form of the protective phytochemicals develops.
Fresh or dried, herbs and spices do more than just make your food look appetizing!
So, try them all -variety is the spice of life. •
-Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant and she can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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