You heard me, Readers – Spice it up.
Yes, in the bedroom
Yes, at the workplace [probably not the same way as the workplace…]
Yes, with your workout routine […totally fine if this takes place in the bedroom… and yes Mom… I mean…. I do my Yoga in my bedroom… or something like that…]
Ok – but really, Spice it up in your kitchen.
I’m sure even if you don’t have Hypertension [i.e. high blood pressure] you have heard someone at some point in time say that you [or someone you know] that you “should” cut back on salt – yes?
Ok well, that’s fine, I’m glad people are cracking down on high blood pressure – – – but what about bland, tasteless food?
That should be a sin too, right?
Totally and completely.
Food, I am a firm believer, is meant to taste amazing and be pleasing to all of your senses from the first glance to the last bite [which actually has more to do with your sense of smell than your sense of taste. Read Here For More On That
So what gives?
Isn’t salt the end-all, be-all flavor enhancer? I mean Betty Crocker and Nestle Tollhouse recommend salt as an ingredient in their infamous chocolate-chip cookies… and those are amazing, right?
Well here is where I throw a cliché at you – Everything in moderation.
True story. Check that Nestle recipe – no more than a teaspoon or so in any variation of the recipe.
Salt is not evil in small doses. It is accurate to say that it has flavor enhancing properties. However, it IS also a major contributor to high blood pressure and can easily be substituted with far worthier members of the spice family – members that not only contribute flavor to your favorite dishes but also contribute a whole host of other health contributions as well.
These “health contributions” I speak of are powerful, including but not limited to:
1. Burning body fat [hello! Yes please!]
2. Curbing excess food consumption
3. Revving metabolism
4. Supporting digestion
5. Fighting cancer
6. Protecting neurological function
7. Lowering insulin and triglyceride levels
That’s quite a list.
If I told you that there were several natural entities that you could ingest daily that would:  provide the above stated benefits  cost you way less than the price of a baby aspirin every day  and most of which could be used in small enough amounts so as to subtly compliment, not overpower, your food – would you have any real reason to say, “No” ?
If you do, please feel free to comment below, I would be happy to address any concerns you have.
First, I want to give a brief definition of Spices and Herbs and do a quick comparison of how they are similar and how they are different and then the remainder of the article will be dedicated to highlighting a few of the power-house Spices and best ways to buy, prepare, and store said Spices to get the most bang for your buck.
Guy Johnson, a certified nutritional scientist and Executive Director of the McCormick Institute, had this to say [Psychology Today, November/December 2012, p. 48-49]:
Both Spices and herbs have had strong medicinal and culinary indications for centuries. Both warehouse key components to effectively fight cancer and protect the nervous system – particularly the brain – by promoting cognitive function and preventing decline and maintaining metabolic integrity through their unique array of minerals, antioxidants, and other bioactive compounds.
Both Spice sand Herbs release flavor when fully heated and retain most nutrients if added at the end of cooking process [high heat but low duration].
There really is “NO DOWNSIDE” – both Spices and Herbs are calorie free, contain no fats, and effectively enhance flavor of food without added sodium.
Botanically speaking, Spices are derived from the integral plant parts: including the buds [i.e. cloves], the bark [i.e. cinnamon], the seeds [i.e. fennel], the roots [i.e. ginger, turmeric] while Herbs are derived from the leaves of plants [i.e. sage, and rosemary]. Most Spices are native to tropical areas, while Herbs favor more temperate climates.
Let’s take a look at some of the most powerful Spices and Herbs.
o Medicinal Indications – By nature, Tumeric operates as an anti-inflammatory agent and has been scientifically noted as having positive effect on reducing the impact of the following conditions:
- High Blood pressure and High Cholesterol
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease [Colitis]
- Cystic Fibrosis
- Depression [Curcumin – active ingredient in turmeric – has a measurable effect on mood; it induces neural growth factors in the brain [mimicking the action of Prozac] and has been shown to improve abnormalities associated with Huntington’s and Parkinson’s disease
- Type II Diabetes
- Skin conditions [Psoriasis, dermatitis, gout, open wounds]
- Eye infections and macular degeneration
- Gum disease
o Buying Tips
- Most of the world’s supply comes from Alleppey [a coastal region in lower Western India] and Madras [ a coastal region in Mid-Eastern India]. Research shows that the Alleppey turmeric [for some reason related to soil quality and a million other factors it appears] has a higher curcumin count – so aim for Alleppey turmeric when possible.
- Turmeric, like ginger [below], is a root by nature, and a very tough root at that. Feel free to grind your own if you have the patience, but most folks buy the already ground kind and it is readily available in most all grocery stores.
o Cooking Tips – Easy ways to incorporate Tumeric [even the pickiest of eaters will scarcely tell it’s there!]
- Add to olive oil in your frying; mix in on medium heat for a few seconds before adding veggies or making a stir fry
- Add a few teaspoons of chili or soups, OR, HONESTLY, just about any hot dish – even pastas, rices, lentils – – – p.s I would love to hear what you tried it on, send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org or simply comment below!
- Eat more mustard! Mustard has turmeric in it!
o Medicinal Indications – the seeds contain high levels of Linalool and Geranyl Acetate – two oil-based phytonutrients [i.e. nutrients in plants] that have been shown to act as anti-oxidants, protecting your cells and warding off the degenerative cell mutations that cause many cancers. Additionally, recent studies have shown Coriander to be effective in soothing digestive ailments by acting as an “antispasmodic” agent and relaxing the muscles of the digestive system. Coriander has been scientifically noted as having positive effect on reducing the impact of the following conditions:
- Colon cancer
- High blood pressure
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Stomach aches and ulcers
- Vaginal yeast infections [Candida]
- Liver disease
o Buying Tips
- As noted above, the oils in Coriander seed have cancer-preventing properties, so opt for whole seeds when buying since already ground seeds lose nutritional value after a few months
- Most Coriander available for purchase in the States comes from Europe and India.
- European Coriander will be spherical in shape and have very high Linalool and Geranyl Acetate content
- Indian Coriander will be more egg-shaped and contains trace amounts of other phytonutrients that offer and more lemony scent
- Nutritionally speaking both European and Indian Corianders are near equal, just depends on what flavor you want as to which you should buy
o Cooking Tips – Easy ways to incorporate more Coriander!
- Coriander seeds with peppercorns in your peppermill
- Coarsely grind it and use it as a meat or fish rub before marinating/cooking
o Special Note: often times, people confuse Cilantro with Coriander. Take note that Cilantro is an Herb that comes from the strongly scented leaves of the Coriander plant; while tasty, Cilantro pales in comparison nutrition-wise from the Cordiander’s nutty little seeds [from which the spice is ground]
o Medicinal Indications – the seeds contain high levels of Anethole, the same phytonutrient that gives licorice its…licoricey flavor. Fennel seeds also contain high levels of another phytochemical known as phytoestrogens, which are estrogen-like compounds found in plants
- According to the Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics, a study was conducted that compared Fennel seed extract to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs [NSAIDs] such as Ibuprofen. Per the study results, the fennel seed extract actually out-performed the NSAIDs in relieving menstrual cramping and pain! Trust me, this is a positive thing women AND men…
- In another study, Fennel seed was shown to assist in calming babies experiencing colic [AKA – babies crying for 3+ hrs daily for multiple days] by more than 40% as compared to a placebo group
- In India, Fennel seeds are eaten as an after-dinner digestive-aide
o Buying Tips
- Sold whole or already ground
- Whole seeds should be yellow with a greenish tinge for best quality; they can last for up to 3 yrs without taste or nutrient compromise
- Ground seeds tend to lose quality after 6 months – so ideally, buy whole seeds and ground as needed!
o Cooking Tips – Easy ways to incorporate more Fennel seed!
- Add to fruit salads and compotes for a complementary added crunch
- Toast the seeds on a tray in the oven then crush and steep in your favorite cup of tea
- Add to scrambled eggs or your next red sauce/meat ragu
o Special Note: Fennel is actually a vegetable, and herb, AND spice!
o Medicinal Indications – used globally as an anti-nausea and motion-sickness treatment [this indication actually started thousands of years ago by “natural healers” and has been increasingly corroborated by scientific studies since the 1980’s here in the States]. Ginger has been scientifically noted as having positive effect on reducing the impact of the following conditions:
- Morning sickness
- Heart attack and stroke
- High triglycerides [blood fats]
o Buying Tips
- Opt for fresh Gingerroot and grind as needed for optimal nutrition and flavor
- Look for “knobs” [or “hands” as they are frequently called] that are firm and smooth to the touch
- Place peeled Ginger in a paper bag before placing in fridge
- Ginger even keeps great in the freezer when left un-peeled!
o Cooking Tips – Easy ways to incorporate more Ginger!
- Grate fresh Ginger over cooked rice noodles, tofu, or veggies
- Rub ground Ginger onto meat before cooking
- Steep a nickel-sized sliver of ginger with your favorite tea
- Sprinkle ground Ginger on sweet potatoes or squash before baking
- According to the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, 109 people with Type II Diabetes were divided into two groups – one group received 1 gram of Cinnamon per day for 90 days, while the other group received a placebo. Results showed that the Cinnamon was 45% more effective at reducing A1C levels [a blood sugar measurement used to indicate Diabetes diagnosis]
- Several other studies show that Cinnamon works that very same day it is incorporated and that the “90” days reflected in the above mentioned study represents cumulative advantages the Cinnamon produces.
- Richard Anderson, pHD and head scientist at the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center of the US Dept. of Agriculture theorizes that the Cinnamon works by mimicking insulin [the hormone that regulates blood sugar]. Simply put, Cinnamon is thought to stimulate insulin receptors the same way insulin would and allow the excess sugar to move out of the blood and into the cells for proper utilization
- Cinnamon has been scientifically noted as having positive effect on reducing the impact of the following conditions:
- High cholesterol
- Food poisoning
- Heart disease, high blood pressure [AKA Hypertension]
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome [PCOS]
- Yeast infections [Candida]
o Buying Tips
- Ground Cinnamon flavor tends to fade after 3 months, so, ideally, buy whole Cinnamon sticks and grind as needed [but nutritionally, it stays pretty sound, so if you buy often don’t worry about grinding your own]
- Reportedly, the finest cinnamon on the globe is “Ceylon” Cinnamon which comes from Sri Lanka
- Any Cinnamon is better that no Cinnamon, so don’t worry about getting fancy
o Cooking Tips – Easy ways to incorporate more Cinnamon!
- Sprinkle Cinnamon on fruit salads, particularly complimentary to bananas, apples, and melons
- Combine with black pepper and cardamom for a hearty meat rub
- Add to stew and soups for an extra kick people will rave about but not be able to place!
- Make your own spiced tea: Use a quart of brewed tea [black or green], add two cups of apple juice, allow to summer with a sliced lemon wedge and two cinnamon sticks for about 10 mins. Enjoy!
**PLEASE NOTE: Spices tend to lose their aromatic flavor in the first 3 months – do your best to store all spices in their OWN clean, airtight containers away from heat and lights. Refrigeration also can help extend their life.
Make sure to check back this weekend for the follow article “HERB is the word, haven’t you heard?” where we look at some of the most powerful Herbs you can include in your diet.