Among other things, the holidays are a time of national dysnutrition: the disease of excess. Dysnutrition happens even in the most developed countries when food is plentiful but the overall diet is based on eating all the wrong balance of foods. Sound familiar? The typical American diet that is high in simple carbohydrates--white flour, white salt, and processed food--is aging us. We are getting all the bulk without the nutrients, plus adding to our propensity for developing real food cravings. So whether you are a vegetarian or an omnivore, you can start to reverse aging by simply choosing to eat the right foods to keep you full of vim, vigor, and vitality, especially over the holidays.
The easiest way to make sure you are getting more nutrients into every meal, even when you are grazing at the office cocktail party or the neighborhood potluck dinner is by choosing foods that are loaded with spices. Every time you flavor your meals with herbs or spices you are literally "upgrading" your food without adding a single calorie. You are taking something ordinary and turning it into something extraordinary by adding color, flavor, vitamins, and often medicinal properties. Here's why:
* Spices and herbs maximize nutrient density. Herbs and spices contain antioxidants, minerals and multivitamins. At the cocktail party, choose the Thai chicken satay stick over the tried and true fried chicken strip.
* Spices and herbs create a more thermogenic diet. Because spices are nutrient dense, they are thermogenic, which means they naturally increase your metabolism. As your metabolism revs higher you will burn more of the food you have already eaten as fuel, and store less as body fat. At the dinner party, finish off the meal with coffee or tea sprinkled with cinnamon, which contains dozens of nutrients.
* Some spices and herbs increase your overall feeling of fullness and satiety, so you'll eat less. One study conducted at Maanstricht University in the Netherlands showed that when one consumes an appetizer with half a teaspoon of red pepper flakes before each meal, it decreased their calorie intake by 10-16%. If you're planning a holiday menu, think of starting with a tomato soup sprinkled with red pepper.
* You can eliminate salt. When you flavor your foods with spices instead of salt you'll immediately see health and physical benefits. Excessive salt intake keeps water inside your body. Once you kick the habit you will no long have excessive bloating and water retention. You'll also lose the salt and salty snack craving. That's because using salt begets using more salt: after a while it's impossible to use just a pinch, because you've trained your brain to require a salty taste for everything you eat. Over time, using spices will also lessen your cravings for simple, nutrient poor carbohydrate snacks because you will not be yearning for a savory, salty taste. Stay clear of the chips and dips and you're doing your brain and your body big favor.
* Spices and herbs have real medicinal properties. Study after study shows the benefits of distinct herbs and spices. One study at MalmÃ University Hospital in Sweden showed that up to two hours after eating, people who ate cinnamon-spiced rice pudding measured significantly lower blood-glucose levels than those who had eaten the unspiced version. Other studies suggest that cinnamon may improve blood-glucose levels by increasing a person's insulin sensitivity. One 2003 trial of 60 people with type 2 diabetes reported that consuming as little as two teaspoons of cinnamon daily for six weeks reduced blood-glucose levels significantly. It also improved blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, perhaps because insulin plays a key role in regulating fats in the body. So if you start adding spices to your diet now, you might be able to see real health benefits in the early months of the New Year.
Every little bit counts, so spice it up! Change your eating habits now, especially if your next meal is a pile of franks 'n blanks or cheeseburger sliders. Choose flavor over blandness every time, and try to incorporate these specific herbs and spices into your diet if you have the following health concerns:
* rosemary and basil for their anti-inflammatory power
* cumin and sage for their dementia-fighting power
* cayenne and cinnamon for their obesity-fighting power
* coriander and cinnamon for their sugar regulating powers
* lemon grass, nutmeg, bay leaves and saffron for their calming effects on your mood
* turmeric for its cancer fighting power
* oregano for its fungus-beating power
* garlic, mustard seed and chicory for their heart-pumping power
* basil and thyme for their skin-saving power
* turmeric, basil, cinnamon, thyme, saffron, and ginger for their immune-boosting power
* coriander, rosemary, cayenne, allspice and black pepper for their depression-busting power