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This article is shared with permission from our friends at deannaminich.com.

“He who controls the spice controls the universe.” ― Frank Herber

As a nutritionist, I can’t speak enough about the advantages of regularly using spices in cooking. Spices are high-potency sources of plant compounds that fight oxidation and inflammation – the processes underlying disease. Having my spice rack in the kitchen is like having a little pharmacy. I try to use them in every meal, from a smoothie to a stir-fry.

You might find it surprising that the average American uses a minimum of four spices in every recipe. Indeed, spices are essential for dish definition and for engaging our senses in the eating experience. For many years, they have been consumed in relatively minor amounts; however, these dried parts of plants, whether seed, fruit, root, bark, or vegetative substance, play big roles in providing flavor, color, and keeping food free of harmful invaders.

Reasons to Add Spice

Spices are also really good for our bodies. In fact, cultures which regularly use a variety of spices have been typically found to be healthier. Research has shown that the low rates of dementia in India are due, in part, to their intake of turmeric (about 1 teaspoon over a day).

Similarly, the benefits of the Mediterranean diet have been touted extensively, including reducing rates of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, rates of cancer have been shown to be lower in countries that use more spices. In general, scientific research has connected spices to preventing and treating more than 100 different conditions.

You may want to “spice up your life” with these jewels of the plant kingdom for a couple of reasons.

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Spices May Help to Keep You Healthy

They provide a low-calorie means to obtaining strong antioxidant and potent anti-inflammatory actions due to the vitamins, minerals, and different phytonutrients they contain. Moreover, because of their antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-fungal properties, spices assist us in keeping our immune systems robust. When we feel our digestive system tangled in a knot of stress, we may benefit from carminatives like fennel and cumin. Additionally, there are certain “warming” spices like cayenne and cinnamon that may help keep the wheels of our metabolic machinery moving with ease.

Spices Make a Little Food Go a Long Way and Allows Us to Find More Pleasure and Gustatory Satisfaction in the Eating Experience

If we dazzle food with a little spice, we may tend to feel more satisfied with a meal, making us eat less in the long run. Also, spices invite us to have fun in the food preparation, allowing our senses to engage so that our digestive juices start flowing. In the presence of spices, our appetite becomes stimulated, enabling us to enjoy and be satisfied to a greater extent with food.  When a meal connects to our senses, it takes on more of a memorable significance. Associating healthier foods with aromatic spices is one way to create a favorable experience, while at the same time, enforce healthy eating behaviors.

Which Spices Should I Use?

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There are so many spices you can choose from, but here are just a few popular ones with powerful abilities.

Turmeric: The Spice Superstar

Also known as “Indian gold,” turmeric has a deep, yellow hue. Commonly used in Indian cuisine, turmeric is a culinary spice and major ingredient in curry powder. It has more than 50 healing actions, including some of these traditional uses:

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Turmeric is also known as the “anti-cancer spice” with research studies showing how it inhibits the activation of genes that trigger cancer, inhibits the spread of tumor cells, inhibits the transformation of normal cells into cancer cells and shrinks them, kills cells that mutate into cancer, and prevents tumors from spreading to other organs.

You can easily use more turmeric in the kitchen by adding it to your stir-fries, meats, poultry, or fish recipes. It adds a wonderful little something to soups and stews, and can be used in dishes with cruciferous vegetables for added protection against toxins and to promote healthy metabolic detoxification.

Rosemary: The Queen of Flavor

Popular in Mediterranean regions, rosemary thrives in dry, sunny, sandy scrublands near the sea. The word originated from “robe of Mary” in the Christian tradition and eventually became known as “Rosemary.” In pre-modern Europe, the French burned rosemary and juniper berries in hospitals to purify the air and prevent disease.

Rosemary has been shown to have many health benefits including having antibacterial, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant activities.

It is a hardy spice with a strong flavor and cooks well with meat. Put whole sprigs under roast lamb or place a sprig in the cavity of a whole chicken or fish. Whole sprigs used this way should be removed and discarded. It also does not lose its flavor in long, slow cooking so it is great in soups and stews. You can finely chop the leaves and add to tomato-based soups. Or use it to flavor strong vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and eggplant.

Cinnamon: Beloved Sugar Balancer

This much-beloved ingredient is used in cuisines the world over. Derived from the bark of a tropical evergreen tree, cinnamon was considered sacred in ancient history. In the US and Europe, cinnamon is most popular in sweet dishes like apple pie.

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Indian and Chinese systems of medicine have embraced cinnamon as a medicine for centuries. In Ayurveda, it is used for the following:

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is used for its “warming” qualities in respiratory ailments and muscle aches. Cinnamon aids in type 2 diabetes because it has both short-term and long-term blood sugar control properties. Topically, cinnamon is used in suntan lotions, nasal sprays, mouthwashes, gargles, toothpaste, and as a counterirritant in liniments for its wound healing, anti-microbial, and anti-fungal properties.

Try putting a cinnamon quill in beef or vegetarian stews or in lentil soup for that extra something special. You can also mix cinnamon with mint and parsley in ground beef for burgers or meatloaf or mix it into rice pilaf. It also makes a yummy spiced tea by putting a quart of brewed tea in a pot, add two cups of apple juice, and gently simmer with a sliced lemon and two cinnamon sticks for 10 min.

How to Add Spice

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If you are looking to add more spices into your everyday eating, here are some fun ideas to explore:

  • Drinks: Add spices to smoothies or to steamed milk (e.g., cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom); Substitute tea by steeping dried lemongrass or mint in hot water.
  • Salads and Sandwiches: Add chives, basil, fennel or mustard seeds, cumin, and/or mint to leafy green salads, tuna or chicken salads, or sandwiches; Garlic, basil, and ginger, added to oil (like olive oil) and balsamic vinaigrette make for a spice-infused salad dressing.
  • Condiments: Eat more mustard (contains turmeric); Add freshly grated garlic and ground pepper to mayonnaise.
  • Meats: Marinate lean meats in curry powder to tenderize. Make a dill lemon sauce for fish dishes.
  • Vegetables: Stir fry vegetables in a curry powder for an Indian flair or with ginger and garlic for an Asian twist.
  • Eggs: Add extra flavor to scrambled eggs with a handful of fresh parsley or chives; Color soft tofu with turmeric as an egg scramble substitute!
  • Fruits: Simmer fruits with a cinnamon quill and vanilla beans.
  • Grains: Add saffron to savory rice or make a rice pudding with cardamom, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add oregano, ground rosemary, and cracked peppercorns to pasta.

Invite spices to warm your body, tickle your taste buds, wake up your mind, and penetrate your soul with an abundance of gifts including sweet, astringent, sour, earthy and savory flavors along with healing and health! 

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