Spices Are More Than Flavorings, They Are Also Medicine
Shakespeare recognized this fact when he wrote in Hamlet: “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember.” More than 400 yrs later, scientific studies have confirmed that rosemary may indeed help preserve cognitive function.
“You cannot go wrong with herbs and spices,” says Dr. Wendy Bazilian, author of The SuperFoods Rx Diet.
An increasing body of evidence suggests that frequent use of spices and herbs may help prevent or treat many chronic diseases such as allergies, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and dementia.
Although many spices are associated with health benefits, Dr. Bazilian singles out the following 7 “super spices” as especially useful.
Remember that you are most likely to benefit from ordinary culinary doses, not super-doses which may be harmful, as follows:
1. Cinnamon: One teaspoon of cinnamon contains the antioxidant equivalent of a half-cup of blueberries and one cup of pomegranate juice.
Recent research also suggests that this potent, polyphenol-rich spice helps regulate blood sugar, which is great news for people with diabetes or pre-diabetes. Cinnamon can be added to cereals, yogurt, baked goods, applesauce as well as savory fare such as sweet potato fries and other vegetables. An easy and tasty way to add it to your diet is to add a half-teaspoon over ground coffee before brewing.
2. Ginger: One teaspoon of fresh ginger contains the antioxidant equivalent of one cup of spinach. Ginger has long been recognized for its beneficial effects on digestion, pain, and inflammation.
New research suggests that ginger also may improve cognition in women and promote weight loss in men.
3. Oregano: Dr. Bazilian calls oregano a “mini salad” because one teaspoon of the dried herb contains the antioxidant equivalent of three cups of chopped broccoli.
“Oregano has very strong anti-microbial, antibacterial, and some anti-inflammatory properties,” she says. Oregano is associated with a decrease in post-meal blood levels of triglycerides, thus preventing heart disease.
4. Red Peppers: Spice derived from red peppers include cayenne, crushed red pepper, and paprika.
Research suggests that red peppers may increase feelings of satiety after meals, enhance metabolism, improve circulation, and promote weight loss.
In one study, people who ate dihydrocapsiate, a compound found in chili peppers experienced a boost in fat-burning capacity. In another study, lab animals fed capsaicin, the ingredient in chili peppers that provides heat had decreased blood pressure.
5. Rosemary: As noted above, rosemary has beneficial effects on cognition. Rosemary also contains potent anti-inflammatory compounds that may reduce the risk of heart disease. When rosemary is a main component in polyphenol-rich spice marinades, it dramatically reduces the formation of carcinogenic compounds in meats exposed to grilling.
For example, studies show that a rosemary-rich marinade reduces the formation of malondialdehyde in grilled hamburgers by 71%, and reduces the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCAs) in grilled steak by up to 88 percent.
6. Thyme: This spice has received much attention for its heart-healthy properties. But it also helps treat respiratory conditions such as bronchitis. In Europe, doctors often recommend thyme oil as a remedy for cough.
7. Turmeric: This bright yellow spice commonly found in curry powder, it has potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and anticancer activities.
Observational studies have suggested that turmeric may decrease the risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes, allergies, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer.
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