Ann Kulze, MD
Just Wellness, LLC
Spices and herbs not only boost the flavor of your food, they also boost your health. Powerful plant compounds known as phytochemicals are found in high concentrations in many spices and herbs. Phytochemicals help fight heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes, arthritis and other diseases.
Here are the seasonings to add liberally to your food as often as possible. Unless otherwise noted, fresh herbs and spices offer a higher concentration of phytochemicals, but dried still are powerful.
The following spices have been shown to be particularly beneficial to our health...
Cinnamon. Cinnamon has an almost medicinal power. Recent studies have shown that cinnamon enhances the metabolism of glucose and cholesterol and thus may provide protection from type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
A study reported in Diabetes Care highlighted cinnamon’s favorable impact on the blood fat levels of people with type 2 diabetes. After eating one to six grams (about one-quarter to one-and-one-quarter teaspoons) of cinnamon daily for 40 days, overall levels of unhealthy blood fats dropped significantly -- up to 26% for total cholesterol and 30% for triglycerides (a type of blood fat).
Even healthy people can benefit from cinnamon’s impact on blood sugar, according to a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Adding cinnamon to rice pudding significantly decreased the test subjects’ normal, post-dessert elevations of blood sugar.
Interestingly, at least some of this effect was related to the spice’s ability to delay how quickly food leaves the stomach and enters the intestines. In this regard, cinnamon also may be helpful in reducing appetite and hastening weight loss by enhancing satiety (the feeling of fullness).
Suggested uses: Cinnamon can be added to oatmeal, cereal and yogurt... coffee and tea... pumpkin and apple dishes... and to rice and beans for an Indian touch.
Turmeric. Curcumin (turmeric’s active ingredient) is one of the most potent, naturally occurring anti-inflammatory agents ever identified, and thus may be one of the best all-round spices for disease protection and antiaging. Inflammation plays a central role in most chronic diseases.
Turmeric also can be considered “brain health food.” Research studies on mice demonstrate turmeric’s ability to reduce the buildup of plaque in the brain that is associated with Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline. Laboratory research has shown that turmeric also has potent anticancer properties.
Suggested uses: Add turmeric to your favorite bean, poultry, seafood, tofu and rice dishes, as well as to soups and stews. Turmeric often is used in classic Indian dishes, such as curries.
MORE HEALTH HELPERS
Cilantro. Cilantro is high in the vitamins A and K and beta-carotene, and like any dark, leafy green, it is full of beneficial phytochemicals, including a natural antibiotic called dodecenal. In a University of California, Berkeley, laboratory study, dodecenal killed the bacteria Salmonella more effectively than a powerful prescription antibiotic.
Suggested uses: Add fresh, chopped cilantro to salsa, guacamole, omelets, salads, soups and stews.
Ginger. Ginger is an anti-inflammatory superstar. It suppresses the action of inflammatory cytokines and chemokines. For people plagued with motion sickness or morning sickness or experiencing postoperative nausea and vomiting, ginger -- fresh or dried -- has proved to be an effective and safe option. The phytochemicals in ginger also are valuable for boosting immunity, especially to combat viral infections.
Suggested uses: Dried powdered ginger is even more potent than fresh. Add it to sauces and salad dressings, or sprinkle it on salad, poultry or seafood. You also can add a thumbnail-size piece of raw ginger to hot tea. Ginger is delicious in its candied form, and pickled ginger is perfect with sushi.
Parsley. One tablespoon of fresh parsley provides more than half of the daily recommended value of vitamin K. It’s also rich in vitamin A, lutein and zeaxanthin (which promote eye health) and provides nature’s most concentrated source of flavonoids, plant pigments that provide health benefits. Parsley is among those plants that may be particularly useful for combatting cancer, allergies and heart disease.
Suggested uses: Add fresh chopped parsley to salads, pasta and rice dishes, soups and stews. Parsley is a main ingredient in the Mediterranean cracked-wheat dish tabouli.
Rosemary. This savory herb contains phytochemicals that can reduce the formation of cancer-causing compounds known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs). HCAs can form when the proteins in meat are heated to high temperatures.
Preliminary research also indicates that rosemary may enhance insulin sensitivity, improving the action and efficiency of insulin in the body, supporting healthy metabolism and slowing the aging process. It turns out that Shakespeare’s Ophelia wasn’t all that far off when she said that rosemary is for remembrance. According to a study in Journal of Neurochemistry, rosemary contains the compound carnosic acid (CA), which helps protect the brain.
Suggested uses: I always add one teaspoon of dried rosemary, or a tablespoon or two of fresh, to a pound of ground meat before grilling burgers. Rosemary also is good in lamb and potato dishes, soups and stews.
KAY'S NOTE: Just remember to use single spices with nothing added to avoid contamination.