Spices! Woah nelly – check out the powerful health benefits of these babies. I’ll be adding more of them in to my life as much as I possibly can!
> Did you know there’s a spice that’s well known to reduce farting?
> Know which spice is a potent aid for asthma?
> Did you know there’s another spice that when used topically, inhibits pain messages being sent to the brain! Insane.
> There’s another spice that was shown to be comparable in effectiveness at treating depression to a dozen drugs?
> And another that was shown to be just as effective as relieving menstrual pain as Ibuprofen!
Read on for: health benefits, uses and ways to get them in that beautiful body of yours.
PS. This is only a sampling of spices. Perhaps I’ll get to writing up the awesomeness of more spices soon 🙂
Turmeric gets a rad wrap, and for good reason, as you’ll see below! It’s a popular ingredient in Indian cooking and is also used in religious ceremonies and skin care. It’s also known as the Indian saffron or the golden spice from Asia and Central America. It’s the subterranean stem of the 2-3 foot, long-leafed Turmeric plant.
Now for the good stuff…
Curcumin is Turmeric’s primary component, which:
- Lowers inflammation (the cause of sooo much chronic disease)
- Strengthens our immunity to sickness
- Increases the antioxidant capacity of the body and inhibits free radicals
- Improves brain function and lowers the risk of brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and depression (it’s even been demonstrated to have comparable efficacy to over a dozen different anti-depressant drugs!)
- Lowers the risk of heart disease (thanks to its ability to improve the functions of endothelium)
- Supports a healthy response to circulation and congestion
- Helps detox the liver (the more I learn about my liver the more I love it)
- It’s even been demonstrated to have comparable efficacy to over a dozen different anti-depressant drugs!
- Achy joints? Turmeric can reduce stiffness and strengthen joints
- Cleansing effect on the intestines
- May help prevent cancer
- Used to enhance the condition and appearance of the skin (through both topical and internal applications)
*Use with caution if you’re taking anti-coagulant medication, as Turmeric can thin the blood and enhance blood flow.
*Curcumin is not easily absorbed in the body, but good news – black pepper enhances it’s bioavailability! So always add a little black pepper when using turmeric.
- As a spice: Use turmeric in curries and other spicy dishes.
- As a background to most cooked dinners: A meal doesn’t need to be spicy to benefit from turmeric! Add 1 tablespoon of turmeric paste to basically any cooked dinner (soups, spaghetti bolognese…).
- As a tea: Make your own turmeric tea by boiling 2 cups of water with 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder / paste and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. Just add lemon, honey, or milk and you’re ready to go!
True Sri Lankan Ceylon Cinnamon (or cinnamon verum) is the real deal, and should never be confused with Cassia Cinnamon.
It’s derived from the inner bark of the plant Cinnamomum verum. One of the oldest spices around, it was once prized more precious than gold! The Egyptians and Romans deemed it sacred, Chinese medicine and Ayurveda have always known it’s worth, and throughout history it’s even been used as medicine, perfume and currency.
Today cinnamon is reaching new levels of awareness and respect, and used to add flavour and goodness to just about anything.
- Antioxidant (thanks to the powerful polyphenols it contains)
- Supports healthy brain and cognitive function (it’s actually one of the few compounds that supports the manufacture of brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNFs) – joining the company of turmeric, ashwagandha, bacopa, omega-3 fish oils
- Converts to ‘Benzoate’ in the liver, which:
a) Supports BDNF production (which boost neurotransmitter brain activation)
b) Supports dopamine receptors (necessary to maintain the integrity of nerve cells responsible for locomotion and fine motor control)
c) Supports natural regeneration of dopamine-carrying nerve cells
d) Acts as an antioxidant for the brain
- Anti-coagulent (improves blood circulation)
- Reduces risk of heart disease (thanks to it’s ability to lower bad LDL cholesterol levels)
- Lowers blood sugar levels (can assist with type 2 diabetes)
- Helps in reducing weight
- Stimulates the digestive system
- Reduces the growth of cancer cells and the formation of blood vessels in tumours
- Helps bacterial and fungal infections (yes, read candida), thanks to it’s anti-microbial, anti-fungal properties
- Treats nausea, coughs and phlegm
- Can help fight HIV-1
We go through a LOT of cinnamon at our place!
- Every smoothie
- Every bowl of oats
- In baking
- Sprinkled on desserts
- In pancakes
- In tea
- It also goes great in savoury curries and sauces.
Cayenne peppers have long been referred to as the king of medicinal herbs. In fact, these peppers have been used for thousands of years to help treat many health problems.
Cayenne peppers are a type of chilli pepper. They belong to the nightshade family of flowering plants.
Originally grown in Central and South America, but brought to Europe in the 15th century by Christopher Columbus.
Capsaicin is the active ingredient in cayenne peppers, and it’s what gives them their medicinal properties.
It’s also gives them their hot taste. In fact, how hot a cayenne pepper is depends on its capsaicin content. The more capsaicin it contains, the hotter it is. So if you find your eyes watering, maybe that’s a good thing!
- Boosts metabolism (mildly)
- Helps you burn more calories per day (by increasing the amount of heat your body produces, through a process called diet-induced thermogenesis)
- May help reduce hunger (many studies show it may help you eat less, and feel fuller for longer)
- Reduces blood pressure in animal studies
- Boosts the stomach’s defence against infections, increases digestive fluid production and helps deliver enzymes to the stomach, aiding digestion
- May help reduce the risk of stomach ulcers (contrary to the popular belief that spicy food actually causes stomach ulcers)
- Acts as a pain reliever when applied to the skin! (Thanks to it’s ability to reduce the amount of a neuropeptide ‘substance P’, that signals to the brain that there’s pain. *Don’t use on open skin)
- Improves psoriasis
- May reduce the risk of cancer (animal studies show promise of slowing the growth of cancer cells and even causing cancer cell ‘suicide’ for many types of cancer).
Add a pinch of cayenne pepper spice to lots of your fave foods like eggs, homemade hot chips, marinades….
Try slicing fresh chilli’s into salads and stir fries.
Ginger is one of the healthiest and most delicious spices on Earth. It has a very long history of medicinal use.
It’s loaded with powerful nutrients and bioactive compounds that are like music to your body and brain.
Ginger is a flowering plant, belongs to the Zingiberaceae family, and is closely related to turmeric, cardomon and galangal. Originally from ancient China, ginger then spread to India and the rest of the Asia and West Africa. India is now the greatest producer of ginger in the world.
The head honcho bioactive compound in ginger is called Gingerol – and it’s this compound that’s responsible for much of ginger’s medicinal properties.
Ginger is well known to:
- Reduce nausea (1-1.5 grams of ginger can help prevent various types of nausea. This applies to sea sickness, chemotherapy-related nausea, nausea after surgery and morning sickness – yay!)
- Help with digestion
- Fight the flu and common cold
But did you know that ginger:
- Is anti-inflammatory
- Is a powerful source of antioxidants
- Lowers the risk of infections (particularly gingivitis and periodontitis)
- Is effective against exercise-induced muscle pain (In one study, consuming 2 grams of ginger per day, for 11 days, significantly reduced muscle pain)
- Has been shown to help with menstrual pain (oh yeah – goodbye Panadol, right! 1 gram of ginger powder during the first 3 days of the menstrual cycle was shown to be just as effective as the drugs mefenamic acid and ibuprofen)
- Reduces symptoms of osteoarthritis (thanks to it’s anti-inflammatory effect)
- May drastically lower blood sugars and improve heart disease risk factors, which spells very welcome news for those with diabetes (however, this was just one small study. The results are incredibly impressive, but they need to be confirmed in larger studies)
- May help prevent indigestion (though bigger studies need to be done)
- Lowers blood pressure
- Lowers cholesterol levels
- May be effective against pancreatic, breast and ovarian cancer, though it’s early days and more study is definitely needed
- May help improve brain function and reduces our risk for Alzheimer’s.
There’s no shortage of ways to use ginger!
- Baked goods (like gingerbread, cookies…)
- In soups, stir fries
- Pickled with sushi
- Ginger tea
- Ginger beer
What in the world is Asafoetida?!
It’s an ancient Roman spice that even today is used as a complimentary treatment for some nervous conditions, as well as bronchitis, asthma and whooping cough!
It’s the dried sap extracted from the stem and roots of a perennial fennel plant species that belongs to the carrot family, and is used as a spice. The resin is difficult to grate and is traditionally crushed between stones or with a hammer.
Today, the most commonly available form is compounded asafoetida, a fine powder containing asafoetida resin along with arrowroot flour.
An essential ingredient in Indian cooking, asafoetida is usually paired up with lentils and dishes featuring vegetables like cauliflower. When used in cooking, it gives a flavour like an onion or leek.
- Reduces… farting! (it’s a powerful anti-flatulence agent, and it’s used when cooking gas-inducing foods like legumes mainly for this reason)
- Reduces asthma (the oil in asafoetida is eliminated through the lungs, which is why it can be such an an excellent treatment)
- Helps respiratory infections (it’s a potent respiratory stimulant and expectorant, and helps release phlegm and relieve chest congestion naturally)
- Lowers blood pressure (and is a natural blood thinner)
- Helps treat IBS (Irritable Bowl Syndrome)
- May lower blood sugar (this effect is likely due to the presence of phenolic acids, specifically ferulic acid, and tannins in asafoetida extract)
- FODMAPs diet friendly
Asafoetida is a great natural defeater of intestinal wind, and that alone recommends it for inclusion in any and everything that includes lentils or beans.
It’s also a great alternative to garlic and onion.
Don’t be scared off by its pungent smell (think sulphur) because it will dissipate with cooking. If you use too much in a dish, it’ll mellow out as you cook it longer.
It doesn’t taste very pleasant on its own — it’s like a concentrated rotten garlic or onion flavour. But once it’s cooked, it adds a pleasant onion or leek-like flavour to dishes
And don’t make the mistake I made and use too much, or use it raw (I ruined a home batch of tomato sauce this way!).
Use in about the proportion of a pinch or two to 250g of the main ingredient.
Asafoetida works best when first fried for five to ten seconds in hot oil until its pungency is dramatically obvious.
Tiny amounts give a gentle lift to fish, egg or cheese dishes where onion would be too coarse or bulky.
It’s ideal for use when you are not certain if others like onions and garlic or when you do not want subsequently to have garlic breath or the wind problems that onion might generate. That includes salads and salad dressings, too.
Whole Vs. Ground Spices
Whole spices have a longer shelf life compared with ground spices that tend to loose their potency quicker.
On the other hand, ground spices are easier to cook with and, and the flavour is infused into the food faster.
Ground spices don’t really go ‘off’, but their health benefits will lessen over time. If you open the bag, take a whiff and the smell doesn’t hit you in the face, it might be time to get a fresh batch of spices.