Want to pump up your healing potential? Are you ready to add some spice to your life? I mean literally -- add spices to your daily health regimen to prevent and treat the chronic diseases plaguing us. High in powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, spices are a perfect way to add new flavor to your favorite dishes while guarding your health. There is plenty of scientific research worldwide to confirm the use of culinary spices to boost your healing power.
So what exactly is a spice? It is not an herb. A spice may come from the seed, root, leaf, stem, flower, bud, bark or fruit of a plant. Spices are formerly leaves of herbs left to dry; they tend to be aromatic and add flavor to recipes. One big difference to remember is that spices are all edible while some herbs are not.
Here are five spices that you can start adding to your diet today:
Turmeric is used widely in India and gives a beautiful yellow color to any dish. This powerhouse spice has been getting lots of press lately for its potential healing properties. The active ingredient, curcurmin, has been extensively tested and studied and the research touts the outstanding results: it's a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. Turmeric is also known as the anti-cancer spice because of the wide range of potent properties this spice possesses. It is found in virtually all curry recipes. Add turmeric to your cooking oil when frying onions or sautéing vegetables for stews or in any stir-fry dish. Once it starts to heat up you should smell a distinct and pleasant aroma. If no smell arises, then your turmeric is probably too old and it's time to buy a fresh supply. Take note: Curry powder is a mix of common Indian spices that often combines turmeric with coriander (the dried seed of the same plant as the leaf herb cilantro), cumin, fenugreek and black pepper. This easy to use powder mix is not used in India or Asia, but has been created by the West for cooking convenience. The amount of each ingredient varies by brand but for maximum health benefit, I recommend adding spices individually to a recipe -- that way you can control the quantity and quality of each spice. Keep in mind, true curry dishes vary greatly in flavor profile so one generic mix will not suit all recipes.
Cinnamon, that spicy sweet addition to many baked goods, comes from the bark of an evergreen tree, and is dried and rolled into sticks. Evidence shows that it may help to regulate blood sugar and insulin, and perhaps lipids. This is good news for those trying to add some heart protecting tastiness into their diets. Cinnamon has been used as medicine in China and India for centuries and in all varieties of sweet recipes around the world. For you sweet tooths in the U.S. and most European countries, cinnamon is a key component of your apple pies and strudels, cakes, cookies and hot spiced ciders. In Asia, cinnamon sticks are added to savory dishes, such as stews and soups as a flavoring with other spices.
Rosemary is a strong, aromatic, woody spice that grows easily in dry, sunny spaces. It can be used fresh or dry, ground, chopped or whole without losing its potency or flavor. It is a popular spice in French and Italian cooking and is easily found in many meat dishes. Rosemary is a powerful antioxidant that research has found may possibly fight inflammation, reduce stress, contain anti-carcinogenic properties and even improve memory. Try adding rosemary to vinegars and oils, bread recipes and in the cavity of whole chickens and fish.
Fennel seeds come from the fennel plant that produces not only the spice, but also the fennel bulb (vegetable) and the fennel leaf (herb). Fennel seeds taste like licorice and most cooks associate them with sausage and pepperoni pizza. These seeds can be found whole or ground, but keep their freshness and flavor much longer if they are ground right before use. Fennel seeds are another versatile spice found to have potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and are part of culinary recipes around the world. They are used in fish dishes, sprinkled on roast vegetables, tomato soups and sauces and incorporated into many curry and rice dishes.
Black pepper is the most common and best known spice. It is found in almost every savory recipe ever written. Used medicinally in both Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic healing, pepper was popular for its potential diverse curative powers, including a variety of digestive disorders and inflammatory conditions. Black pepper comes from peppercorns found on the stalks of pepper vines in India. They are picked after turning a dark green and are dried, turning their outer layer black. Pink, white and green peppercorns may also be found, but the black pepper has the highest amount of piperine, the component of pepper that wakes up your taste buds and makes you sneeze. The best way to use pepper, retain its health benefits and keep its flavor is to buy the peppercorns whole and grind the pepper as needed. So opt for replacing that old pepper shaker with a handy fresh pepper grinder.
It is easy to jump in and add some spice to your life -- most spices can be found at a conventional supermarket. I recommend seeking out the smaller, local ethnic markets where spices can be found depending on their cultural origins. It is also the perfect place to learn how the spices are used and get tips on what spices are traditionally used together. If you live out in the country, there are now many online spice markets available that have every possible exotic spice for you, too.
So tonight add a new spice to your dinner menu. I highly recommend getting a copy of my new favorite book, "Healing Spices" by Bharat Aggarwal, PhD with Debora Yost.
Here's to you taking charge of your health! Can't wait to hear how you spice up your life.
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