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Just Add Spice

Posted Nov 23 2009 10:01pm 1 Comment

Don’t forget to enter my POM juice giveaway!

I have a very big collection of herbs and spices in my pantry. I adore herbs and spices, and I like playing around with different flavour combinations in dishes. But it seems that I always come back to the same ones, because for some reason I just can’t get enough of them: cinnamon, cumin, red pepper flakes, oregano, basil, and rosemary. Those are my standbys: if I feel that I need a little something extra to jazz up a dish, I’ll toss in one or a combination of the above, and voila! Problem solved.

When we tend to gravitate towards the same kinds of foods, it’s usually because that food contains something our body really needs. We can learn something about what might be missing from what we can’t seem to get enough of. In Chinese medicine, it has to do with warming/cooling foods and the effect that these things have on the body. I was curious about the health benefits from the spices that I mentioned above, and what that might mean about what my body is lacking and therefore requires from external sources. This is an overview of what I found:

Cinnamon:

- 1 tsp of cinnamon contains the same amount of antioxidants as 1 cup pomegranate juice or 1/2 cup blueberries

- Contains polyphenols, which act like insulin and thus regulate blood sugar levels (diabetics, rejoice!)

- Has anti-inflammatory properties to prevent blood clots

- Boosts metabolism and aids digestion

- Protects against fungi diseases and can help with the healing process when you have the flu

Cumin:

- Helps with digestion and insomnia

- Boosts immune system

- Detoxifies and prevents against cancer

- Improves health of skin and skin disorders

- Combats respiratory disorders

Red Pepper Flakes:

- Rich in antioxidants

- Increases satiety, making us feel full faster and thus helps to control our appetites

- Boosts metabolism

- Kills bacteria that causes stomach ulcers and stomach cancer

- Clears congestion

Oregano:

- 1 tsp of oregano contains as many antioxidants as 3 oz of almonds and 1/2 cup chopped asparagus; gram for gram, it is 4 times as potent as blueberries when it comes to antioxidants

- Inhibits bacteria and parasite growth

- Very good source of nutrients such as fibre and iron

- Ancient Greeks and Romans used oregano as a symbol for happiness (aww!)

- Excellent source of vitamin K

Basil:

- Excellent source of vitamin K (I find that oregano and basil often go very well together, so it makes sense that they would have a similar nutrition profile)

- Very good source of iron, calcium, and vitamin A

- Good source of magnesium and potassium

- Blocks an enzyme in the body that causes swelling, thus helping people who have arthritis

- Contains flavanoids which prevent cell structure from being damaged by radiation and oxygen

Rosemary:

- Stimulates the immune system and increases circulation

- Improves digestion

- Contains anti-inflammatory compounds that reduce the severity of asthma

- Increases blood flow to the brain, thus improving concentration

- Fresh rosemary has 25% more manganese than its dried counterpart, but it also has 40% less calcium and iron than when it’s dried, so it’s good to use both interchangeably to reap all of the benefits

The Universal Food Rating System is as follows:

Excellent Source: the food provides more than 75% of your recommended daily value of that nutrient per serving

Very Good Source: the food provides more than 50% of your recommended daily value of that nutrient per serving

Good Source: the food provides more than 25% of your recommended daily value of that nutrient per serving

Spices for Health

I find it really interesting that so many of these herbs and spices have the same kinds of health benefits. And all of them are things which I know that my body really does need help with. I found the notes about digestion and insomnia particularly interesting for myself, personally. I’m looking forward to bringing this up with my nutritionist to hear what she has to say about all of it. It could be that my body needs extra help with all of those antioxidants, too.

How about you? What herbs and spices do you find yourself using repeatedly? Do you think that it might be partly because your body needs the properties and nutrients contained within those herbs and spices?

The above information about herbs and spices can be found in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, World’s Healthiest Foods, and Organic Facts.

Comments (1)
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I'm a fan of everything you've listed. Cumin, as in tumeric/curcurmin/curry, is something I would eat every day if only my wife would cook Indian food. Cinnamon has a great story behind it. I really like tarragon, and found some benefits here.

I guess it just shows that plant-based foods are a no-lose proposition. Almost everything can do something good for you. 

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