Delicious” isn’t actually the first word that involves mind whenever we think of medicinal plants. The majority of us probably picture a stringy green blob of some no-doubt powerful herb, or an odd-smelling tincture of bark or roots. It might be worthwhile to choke them down for the sake of your health, nevertheless they certainly aren’t foods we’d choose to consume, given the option of something more appetizing.
This is actually a false assumption, though, since spices – which we deliberately add to our food to make it taste better – are a few of the most powerful medicinal plants around. A number of the earliest folk remedies in ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine involved spices of 1 kind or another, and as as it happens, the old wives’ tales could actually have a grain of truth to them: spices are powerful medicines, and free from lots of the side effects that produce prescription medicines so dangerous.
These all-natural therapies have great benefits when they’re concentrated in pill form, but better still, some of them really work even in the tiny amounts you’d ordinarily sprinkle on your meal. Without even walking into a health-food store, have a look at what ordinary flavorings can do for you:
Blood Sugar Control
A quick summary of blood glucose (also known as blood sugar; glucose is just some sort of sugar): when you take in a food containing carbohydrates, the body uses those carbs for fuel, specifically for the muscles (that’s why athletes generally need more carbs than the rest of us). Insulin is the hormone that opens the entranceway in to the muscles, and lets the carbohydrates in. Within a metabolically healthy person, this will cause a predictable pattern following a carbohydrate-rich meal: a non permanent increase in glucose levels, and a decrease as everything sugar leaves the blood and enters the muscles instead.
In diabetics on the other hand, blood sugar levels is chronically high, because diabetics either don’t produce enough insulin (Type 1) or their muscles aren’t getting the message from the insulin signaling (Type 2). Chronically high blood sugar is bad news: it sets off a vicious cycle of inflammatory reactions, and frequently eventually ends up being stored as fat (the key reason why diabetes and obesity are closely related).
To conclude very briefly, chronically high blood sugar levels is a significant problem, and blood glucose control is especially important for diabetics. So how can spices benefit this?
First up to bat is cinnamon. It’s a scrumptious coincidence that cinnamon goes so perfectly with sweet potatoes, because from a health perspective, it’s the perfect accompaniment to everyone’s favorite safe starch.
In one study, 3 grams (slightly below 2 teaspoons) of cinnamon every day for eight weeks improved blood sugar control, lipid profile, and BMI in diabetics. Another study found important benefits for doses only 1 gram (significantly less than a single teaspoon) daily.
Even healthy people can reap the benefits of this. One study fed patients rice pudding, and discovered that pudding profumi e sapori with 3g cinnamon helped control the insulin respond to the carbohydrate-rich meal (in other words, it helped them metabolize the carbohydrates better).
A less famous seasoning is fenugreek, a spice best known from Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine. In a single study, fenugreek seeds at lunch and dinner improved blood glucose control and blood lipids in Type 1 diabetics. Fenugreek probably wouldn’t match your sweet potatoes, but you will want to roast up some white potatoes in butter or coconut oil, with a sprinkling of fenugreek and curry powder?
Blood Lipid Improvements
Blood lipids (triglycerides and cholesterol) are a subject of hot debate. There’s no real evidence to prove that dietary cholesterol raises blood cholesterol, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that blood cholesterol itself is harmless; it just proves that egg yolks are innocent of raising it. So even if you’re happily and healthily chowing down on butter, liver, and other extremely nutritious cholesterol-rich foods with out a trace of guilt, blood lipid profiles are still something to monitor.
A quick review of the acronyms:
LDL Cholesterol: This is the “bad cholesterol” that a lot of doctors agree you should reduce (although even this is much more difficult than it sounds).
HDL Cholesterol: This is actually the “good cholesterol” that most doctors are fine with.
Triglycerides: they are a different type of blood lipid associated with coronary disease – interestingly enough, the ultimate way to raise triglyceride levels is not eating fat, but instead eating a lot of refined carbohydrates!
Lots of the same spices that assist in improving blood glucose control also assist in improving blood lipids (probably because insulin and blood sugar levels are incredibly closely related to cardiovascular health). Several of the cinnamon studies, for example, noted that not only did cinnamon improve subjects’ blood sugar levels, but it addittionally lowered their LDL cholesterol, and increased or didn’t change their HDL cholesterol. This implies the subjects had a better ratio of LDL to HDL, a pattern associated with less risk of cardiovascular disease.
Another study specifically on cholesterol discovered that fenugreek powder (also familiar from the blood sugar section), used as a flavoring in virtually any dish the study subjects wished to eat, lowered total cholesterol and LDL. Due to the fact poor blood lipid profiles are so closely associated with diabetes, and that both are signs of overall inflammation, it’s unsurprising that the same anti-inflammatory spices provide benefits for both.
Another beneficial spice for blood lipid improvement is ginger. In a report in Iran, patients who got 3 grams (just under 2 teaspoons) of ginger every day had reduced triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol compared to a placebo group.
Improve Blood Circulation Pressure
Hypertension (high blood circulation pressure) doesn’t actually derive from eating too much salt, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a concern to understand. Despite how little we actually find out about the sources of hypertension, it’s probably a safe wager to shoot for an ordinary blood circulation pressure. Amazingly enough, cinnamon comes to the rescue again here: after 2 grams of cinnamon each day for 12 weeks, several Type 2 diabetics showed lower blood pressure in comparison to controls.
Spices don’t just become antioxidants within the human body; they also help to avoid the nutritional degradation of food during storage. In one study, for example, annatto and coriander were very efficient at preserving the valuable Omega-3 essential fatty acids in meatballs during storage. Although Omega-3s are extremely healthy, they remain a kind of PUFA and accordingly they’re quite fragile and prone to oxidation and going rancid. The spices in this study helped to prevent that, keeping the fats intact and healthy rather than oxidized and inflammatory.
Preventing the oxidation of the fragile fats helps stay away from the creation of advanced glycation end-products (AGEs), which create oxidative stress and increase the aging process. The best illustration of this is a recent test where researchers gave men with Type 2 Diabetes one of two types of burger patties. The first patty was seasoned with salt only. The second had salt and a spice mix containing cloves, cinnamon, oregano, rosemary, ginger, black pepper, paprika, and garlic powder.
Set alongside the control group, the group eating the spiced patties had fewer markers of oxidative stress: the antioxidants in the spices protected the fats in the hamburger both during cooking and during digestion. The spiced burgers also helped improve the function of the endothelium, the cell layer that lines the inner surface of arteries. Impaired endothelial function is one major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, which means this represents a substantial cardiovascular benefit.
This is a dramatic illustration of how spices can help to make the food better for you by reducing these small issues that aren’t noticeable individually but accumulate over time. If you want to cook once a week and freeze the results for fast and simple dinners all week long, this is obviously an advantage to focus on.
Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness (abbreviated DOMS) is familiar to any athlete who’s ever pushed it a touch too hard in the fitness center and woken up the very next day barely able to move. But did you know your post-workout meal can save you a few of that pain? With this study on female martial artists, one band of researchers discovered that 3 grams (slightly less than 2 teaspoons) of ginger effectively reduced muscle soreness.
Improve Gut Flora Function
As it works out, our gut flora love spices just as much once we do, plus they seem to be to be particularly fond of turmeric. A spice instantly recognizable because of its bright golden-yellow color, turmeric is most frequently found in Indian and Southeast Asian cuisine.
In this study, subjects ate curry either with or without turmeric. After their meal, researchers tested the subjects’ breath to observe how much hydrogen is at it. The turmeric group had more hydrogen in their breath, and the carbohydrates in the meal appeared to be moving through their small bowel faster. They are both signs of a healthy response from the gut flora.
Another study, which gave subjects 72-144mg/day (significantly less than 1 teaspoon) of turmeric for eight weeks reported that digestive symptoms were significantly improved in the intervention group in comparison to a placebo group. Interestingly enough, this study measured IBS symptoms, but in people without diagnosed cases of IBS, suggesting that turmeric is effective even for individuals without serious pre-existing problems.
Improve the Taste of Healthy Food
This might seem to be such as a no-brainer (of course nobody wants to consume bland food, and obviously if your food tastes better, you’ll enjoy it more and want to keep consuming it), but it’s worth mentioning in the event Paleo is needs to feel a little boring. One of the best ways to remain enthused about cooking and experimenting in your kitchen is to try a new spice, and whatever keeps you out of the clutches of delivery pizza or takeout Chinese definitely counts as a health benefit.
Prevent and Treat Nausea
It’s sometimes surprising how often traditional folk remedies actually grow to be useful when we start studying them in a lab. Ginger has traditionally been approved to women that are pregnant as an antiemetic (an anti-nausea drug) to help treat morning sickness. And today we can tell from studies it actually works. At the same time as being less costly than prescription medications, this also offers safety benefits: unlike harsh pharmaceuticals (most famously thalidomide), ginger will not carry any risk of birth defects.
With the gear in modern labs, we can now confirm that this old wives’ prescription is quite effective. After several smaller studies, a 2005 meta-analysis showed that 1-1.5 grams of ginger every day (about 1 teaspoon) had not been only effective for nausea in pregnancy, but also clear of potentially dangerous side effects. There haven’t been any studies specifically on ginger for other styles of nausea, but if you always get bad motion sickness on planes or in cars, a cup of ginger tea is obviously worth a go!
Push Away Cravings
Capsaicin, the active component in red pepper and chile peppers, gets a lot of press for its metabolism-boosting effects, but there are two big issues with this. First of all, the studies that show this effect rely on enormous levels of red pepper, a lot more than anyone would ever want to consume unless they took it in a pill. And secondly, this miraculous metabolic effect only amounts to approximately 50 calories/day, even with such extreme doses. So sprinkling red pepper flakes on your salad regrettably won’t get you very far in terms of increased calorie burn.
What it could do, though, is help prevent junk food cravings to begin with. One study gave subjects approximately 1 gram of red pepper flakes (as part of meals, representing a normal food consumption of red pepper) and discovered that after eating meals with the red peppers, subjects were less preoccupied with food, and had lower desire to eat fatty, salty, or sweet foods. Interestingly enough, this effect was stronger among people who didn’t normally eat spicy foods, suggesting that spice-lovers eventually get used to the flavor and need to consume a bit more to find the same effect.
Another study discovered that following a lunch flavored with chili peppers, subjects showed no sign of thermogenic benefits, but did have decreased degrees of ghrelin (the hormone that lets you know when you’re hungry). In other words, they felt fuller after eating. Another study confirmed this: after eating a bowl of red-pepper-flavored soup, subjects voluntarily ate less at all of those other meal. Within this study, though, the dose had to be high enough to join up as “spicy,” suggesting that the taste of the red pepper is merely as important as the other biochemical aspects.
Taking Care of your Spices
The chemical substances in spices that take into account their health-promoting effect (mainly phytonutrients) are sensitive to decay and oxidation, so if you wish to get the most out of your spice collection, make the effort to take care of it properly. This doesn’t have to be time-consuming or difficult, but it can require a little bit of planning. Specifically:
Whenever you can, buy whole spices and grind them yourself. This means that the spices will be as fresh, flavorful, and nutritious as you possibly can.
Light, heat, and moisture are deadly to your spice collection. Store spices in opaque tins that seal tightly. Up to you can, make an effort to keep them from e oven and stove. If you want to store them for lots of months, stick them in the freezer and defrost as necessary.
Ethnic markets are usually better sources for spices than food markets, given that they have a higher turnover, so the spices will tend to be fresher. They’re also usually much cheaper.
Buying spices online often saves big money, since you have the choice of shopping for them in bags and re-using your own jars. Like ethnic food stores, trusted online retailers will also frequently have fresher stock, because they sell out faster. A similar applies to buying them in bulk at a health grocery.
Another spice-buying tip: save your money by avoiding spice blends (pumpkin pie spice, for example). It’s a lot cheaper just to buy the ingredients and mix them up yourself.
Now comes the tasty part: cooking up all these delicious spices to enjoy the double benefit for a delicious dinner and better health. Have a look at some recipes you may use:
Cinnamon (for glucose levels, blood lipids oxidative stress, blood pressure, and cardiovascular health): cinnamon chicken, apple cinnamon fruit rolls, or baked apples. For a straight simpler way to enjoy cinnamon, shake it over winter squash or sweet potatoes.
Chile peppers (for cravings): jerk chicken, spicy pork chili, spicy pulled pork, or spicy scallop salad.
Ginger (for nausea and DOMS): ginger-citrus roast chicken, sweet potato lime soup, or Thai coconut soup. Ginger is also delicious as ginger tea, which you can buy in teabags or just make yourself by boiling some cut-up bits of ginger in water for about 10 minutes.
Turmeric (for gut flora): green chicken masala, chicken tajine with apricots, or Moroccan-style roast chicken. Alternately, add it to some homemade mustard to obtain the bright-yellow effect that you’re used to.
Fenugreek (for blood sugar and blood lipids): add it to anything Indian or Middle Eastern, like curried shrimp and spinach or shakshuka. Or play around with it in recipes that could work with any combo of spices, like this warm broccoli slaw.
Other spices (for food preservation, reducing oxidative stress, and adding flavor): salad dressings and vinaigrettes frequently have a lot of spices already in them: utilize them as marinades to provide your meat a flavorful health boost. Or use a dry rub (a mix of spices without oil or vinegar) to include punch to your meat before grilling or roasting. Alternately, it’s also good for simply include more spices in your everyday cooking. Vegetable recipes are perfect for this – something very basic like oven-roasted cauliflower can become the base for just about any range of spicy additions.
Imagine if I Don’t Like Spices?
Have you been sitting here reading about the benefits associated with hot peppers with a sinking heart because you merely can’t stand the stuff? You’re not by yourself – plenty of folks just aren’t spice people. But don’t feel guilty about it: nobody must eat spices to be healthy. They’re similar to a bonus together with an already excellent diet. If you really can’t stand them, don’t force yourself to choke them down. The main thing is to eat healthy food you enjoy, if it’s packed with turmeric or fenugreek.
Sometimes the healthy choice is also the tasty choice, and the numerous health advantages of common spices will be the perfect example. And you’ll observe that all the study cited in this specific article used amounts a person could reasonably eat in their food: these aren’t effects which come from injecting cinnamon into mouse livers or bathing test-tube cells with marinades. They’re real, significant, and scrumptious health benefits that you can get just by doing something that tastes better anyway: definitely a win-win for everybody concerned.