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  • Writer's pictureAliza Beer MS, RD, CDN

Spice Up Your Life: Healthy Herbs and Spices

I consistently encourage my clients to expand their taste palate and experiment with different herbs and spices. Healthy food does not have to be bland and boring! In addition to enhancing the flavor of the food, many herbs and spices are packed with powerful nutrients. Modern science has now shown that many of them have medicinal properties and carry remarkable health benefits. Here are my favorite ones and why you will need a bigger spice rack!

· Turmeric: Otherwise known as the super spice, turmeric is an incredible inflammation fighter, and can make a significant difference in those suffering from rheumatic pain. This is due to its constituent corcumin, which is a yellow bioactive compound that gives turmeric its color. Corcumin has a wide variety of biological reactions when consumed. Its anti-inflammatory benefits are helpful in healing a leaky gut, improving digestion, and addressing autoimmune issues. It has the ability to slow down inflammation-related aging processes and diseases. Corcumin is also effective at increasing antioxidant capacity in the body. It is one of the most concentrated antioxidant foods you can consume! Consumption will result in an overall reduction of oxidative stress. Wait, there’s more. Corcumin can increase immunity with its anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties, protect against cancer and the development of tumors, and improve heart health. One of the best ways to increase its absorption by the body is by using turmeric alongside a dash of black pepper. This is due to black pepper containing piperine. The combination can boost corcumin’s bioavailability up to 2000%! Sprinkle turmeric on your veggies, grain dishes, or into your sauces, curries, and even smoothies.

· Ginger: Fresh ginger or ground ginger are both beneficial and easy to use. Like turmeric, it’s also anti-inflammatory. It is well known as a treatment for an upset stomach. Additionally, ginger can protect against stomach ulcers and treat menstrual cramps. It can also help relieve nausea and diarrhea, and studies have shown that 1 gram or more of ginger can successfully treat nausea. This includes nausea caused by morning sickness, surgery, chemotherapy, and sea sickness. Ginger tea is great for relieving flu symptoms as well. Ginger also contains inflammation-fighting compounds called gingerols, which some experts believe may help fight some cancers, reduce osteoarthritis pain, and soothe sore muscles. In one study, people who took ginger capsules daily for 11 days had 25% less muscle pain when they exercised, compared to those who took a placebo. Another study found that ginger-extract injections helped relieve osteoarthritis-related knee pain. Add an 1/8 tsp of ground ginger to your pancake, waffle, or muffin batter. You can also sprinkle it over applesauce, or on your toast with peanut butter. Make ginger tea with hot water, tea, ½ tsp grated ginger, lemon, and a tsp of agave if needed.

· Cinnamon: A staple in every kitchen, cinnamon is packed with antioxidants! It’s so concentrated that even just 1 teaspoon a day can help give you a healthy boost. Like turmeric and ginger, cinnamon is also anti-inflammatory. It is believed that cinnamon might be a good fighter of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. It may protect the neurons in our brains, inhibit proteins connected to these diseases, and even improve motor function. Cinnamon is great for managing blood sugar and insulin levels; studies have shown that it can lower fasting blood sugars by 10-29% in diabetic patients. So adding cinnamon to fruits, oats, and sweet potatoes is an excellent idea. Finally, cinnamon is a powerful cancer fighter, and may inhibit the growth of tumors, prevent DNA damage, and cell mutation. Baked apples with cinnamon is a wonderful winter snack. Sprinkling it into every cup of coffee you drink is such an easy and delicious way of consuming it!

· Rosemary: The active ingredient in rosemary is called rosmaranic acid. This substance has been shown to suppress allergic responses and nasal congestion. Rosemary also contains vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, and other B vitamins such as folate and thiamin. It also contains anti-inflammatory properties, and is good for gut health. Rosemary may actually increase bile flow which improves digestion overall, and conditions like IBS and Crohn’s disease. Rosemary oil is great for the skin, and can help soothe and heal dryness, dandruff, cuts, and bruises. It can also help fight hair loss! In one study, researchers compared rosemary oil to minoxidil (a common medication used to treat balding). The group that treated their scalps with rosemary oil had similar hair growth, and less scalp itching, over 6 months compared to those who used the medication. Use chopped fresh rosemary when roasting potatoes and chicken, and it’s amazing on fish as well.

· Garlic: Throughout ancient history, the main use of garlic was for its medicinal properties. We now know that most of these health effects are due to a compound called allicin, which is also responsible for garlic’s distinct smell. Garlic supplementation is well known for combatting sickness, including the common cold. Studies have consistently shown that garlic can reduce the frequency and length of cold symptoms. Human studies have shown that garlic supplementation can cause significant reductions in blood pressure in people with high blood pressure. In one study, garlic was just as effective as a blood pressure lowering drug. For those with high cholesterol, garlic supplementation seems to reduce total and/or LDL cholesterol by about 10-15%. Garlic was also one of the earliest “performance enhancing” substances, and was even given to Olympic athletes in ancient Greece. Some studies suggest that exercised-induced fatigue may be reduced with garlic. One study in menopausal women found that a daily dose of dry garlic extract (equal to 2 grams of raw garlic) significantly decreased a marker of estrogen deficiency. This suggests that this supplement may have beneficial effects on bone health in women. Garlic is very easy to include in your diet, and can be added to soups and sauces, and is wonderful on fish, poultry and meat. Press some garlic cloves with a garlic press and mix with extra virgin olive oil and a bit of salt and you have yourself a healthy and delicious salad dressing!

· Cayenne Pepper: This is a type of chili pepper used to prepare spicy dishes. The active ingredient in it is called capsaicin, and has been shown to reduce appetite and increase fat burning in many studies. This is why it is a common ingredient in many commercial weight loss supplements. One study found that adding 1 gram of red pepper to meals reduced appetite and increased fat burning in people who did not regularly eat peppers. However, there was no effect in people who were accustomed to eating spicy food, indicating that a tolerance to the effects can build up. Other studies show that capsaicin can bump up the body’s metabolic rate, helping you burn slightly more calories. It may also stimulate brain chemicals that help tame hunger. Stir a dash of cayenne into your chummus, or sprinkle it onto your avocado toast or air-popped popcorn.

Herbs and spices can wake up just about any food, and have enormous health benefits as well. It is important to note that some herbs in large doses can cause side effects or interact with medications. So use in moderation, and discuss with your physician any herbal supplements that you are considering.

Iced Vanilla Golden Milk Latte: This refreshing drink has some serious nutrition power.

Ingredients: Serves 1

· 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk

· ½ teaspoon ground turmeric

· ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

· ¼ teaspoon ground ginger

· ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

· ½ -1 tablespoon of agave (optional)

· pinch of ground black pepper

· pinch of sea salt

· 1-2 handfuls of ice

1. Pour almond milk into a mixing glass.

2. Add turmeric, cinnamon, vanilla, ginger, agave, pepper, and sea salt to glass. Vigorously stir with a spoon or stirrer until everything is well mixed.

3. Place ice in a drinking glass. Pour golden milk mixture into the glass, and sprinkle in additional cinnamon on top.


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