When you think of a healthy, balanced diet you probably think of the Four Food Groups – whole grains, lean meats/ meat alternatives, fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats. But a healthy diet should also include an abundance of the ‘fifth food group’ – spices!
Spices used in cooking are the original herbal medicines. Many of the spices in our kitchen pantry have been used for hundreds, or thousands of years to enhance flavour – and to enhance health.
Spices have more antioxidant potential (ORAC score) by weight than fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants are infinitely useful in the body – they prevent cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, premature aging and chronic diseases.
Below are ten spices that can easily be incorporated into your diet to spice up your food, and your health.
1. Cayenne Pepper
Cayenne is an excellent anti-inflammatory and also aids in digestion. Research also has shown that capsaicin, found in cayenne peppers, can relieve pain from achy joints and sore muscles when applied directly to the painful area.
Cilantro is used extensively in Thai and Mexican cuisine. Cilantro is effective at mobilizing heavy metals including mercury, cadmium, lead and aluminum. It can be used during detoxification protocols, but should be used under supervision of a Naturopathic Doctor.
Cinnamon is one of Nature’s richest sources of antioxidants. It is a warming spice and can be used to relieve nausea and vomiting. Recent research shows that ¼ teaspoon per day can lower blood sugar, cholesterol and triglyceride levels which make it beneficial for the treatment of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
My favourite spice for the treatment of colic and gas in infants. Fennel is also useful in supporting liver detoxification. Brew a fennel tea and give a teaspoon to infants to support digestion and relief the pain and discomfort of colic or gas.
Garlic is one of the most popular herbal medicines and is found in most kitchens as well. Garlic is a potent antimicrobial and can be used during acute or chronic infections (such as ear infections, sore throat, coughs, colds and yeast infections). Garlic can also reduce cholesterol and normalize high blood pressure. Regular consumption of garlic can prevent cancer and it is currently being studied for its ability to destroy cancer cells and disrupt the metabolism and growth of tumours.
Ginger is a common ingredient in Asian and Indian cooking as well as giving the flavour to Ginger Ale. Ginger is high in antioxidants and can protect against aging and development of chronic disease. Ginger is best used for decreasing indigestion, treating gas and abdominal spasms and managing nausea. Ginger has been shown in multiple studies to be an effective treatment for nausea associated with motion sickness, pregnancy and hangovers. Ginger tea is easily made by adding a few thin slices of ginger to hot water.
Oregano has potent antibacterial properties. Oregano is effective at destroying unfriendly intestinal bacteria without damage to the friendly bacteria. Oregano is also effective at eliminating yeast (Candida albicans) overgrowth in the body, and particularly in the sinuses.
Thyme is antimicrobial and is useful for cough and colds. Thyme can also reduce the pain of menstrual cramps and calm stomach cramping. Applied topically to cuts and abrasions, thyme is an effective antiseptic preventing bacterial infection.
Turmeric is a traditional Indian spice and is best known in North America as the spice that gives mustard it’s characteristic yellow colour. Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant. It is used to treat arthritis, decreasing pain and joint inflammation. Turmeric is useful for any inflammatory condition including inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, cystic fibrosis, heart disease and cancer. Curcumin (a component of turmeric) may also be used in the prevention of Alzheimers by preventing plaque formation in the brain. Research is currently being done to assess the ability of turmeric to prevent the spread (metastasis) of cancer.
The hot Asian spice commonly served with sushi has been shown in studies to kill Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria in the stomach. This bacteria is associated with heartburn and the development of ulcers and stomach cancer.
Remember to replace your spices frequently. The antioxidant and other medicinal compounds in spices deteriorate with age. Keep spices in well-sealed glass containers and replace after their best-before date or every 6 months.
Dr. Lisa Watson delivers health care that supports balanced and attainable health at all ages and stages of life. Of primary importance is health care that nurtures the body, mind, spirit, family and community. As a Naturopathic Doctor and mother, Lisa believes that health care and a healthy lifestyle are intrinsically linked and that each serves to support the other. Dr. Watson practices at the Integrative Health Institute in Downtown Toronto.
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