Are healthy spices our next superfood craze?
There, deliciously awaiting you in your cupboard, are little bottles that pack a powerful punch: those tasty herbs and spices you probably already use to flavor your recipes. But did you know that they also offer some surprising health bonuses to your diet?
Here are some ways to ‘spice’ up your foods and spice up your health.
By now you’ve probably heard about superfoods foods packed with all those great health promoting and disease-fighting properties like antioxidants and other nutrients to help keep us healthy. Foods like blueberries and broccoli, spinach, yogurt, wild salmon and walnuts, and a host of others. But many people are surprised to learn that certain spices and herbs are also delicious sources of antioxidants and other powerful nutrients, too.
Spices and herbs have been used both to flavor our foods and for their health properties for nearly 5,000 years. Throughout history they were also used to help preserve foods when refrigeration was limited or nonexistent. Technically speaking, herbs and spices are considered fruits and vegetables, and thus have many of the properties that other fruits and veggies possess. They are natural sources of concentrated antioxidants and once dried, they carry a big antioxidant punch in a very compact package since the water has been removed. Both fresh and dried offer wonderful nutrition.
Using more spices and herbs when you’re cooking or simply adding them to prepared foods is an easy way to add more antioxidants into your diet. And there are several in particular that researchers believe hold some of the greatest potential to improve our health. The great news is that these spices and herbs also happen to be ones you probably already have in your kitchen cupboard; among them cinnamon, yellow curry, red peppers (including crushed red pepper, cayenne or paprika), ginger, oregano, rosemary and thyme.
So here are some simple tips to build more tasty herbs and spices into your day from morning to night.
Breakfast. Having received attention for being “the most important meal of the day”, there are nice ways to get a jumpstart on your day with a healthy nutritious breakfast and the addition of some of the super spices. Try sprinkling some ground cinnamon (about 1/2 teaspoon) over your ground coffee grounds before brewing. A single teaspoon of cinnamon has the antioxidant power equal to 1/2 cup of blueberries or a cup of pomegranate juice! Or sprinkle some on your oatmeal with fruit. Since it’s one of the most versatile super spices, it’s easy to keep a shaker of cinnamon on the table.
Research has shown that cinnamon may help regulate blood sugar, an important factor in conditions like metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Scientists are also looking at the role cinnamon may play in helping lower blood pressure an issue more than 1 in 4 Americans currently manage. And if you’re a fan of a savory breakfast, try making herbed scrambled eggs by beating dried thyme leaves into your eggs or egg whites before scrambling. Thyme has received research attention for its connection in helping relieve chest and respiratory problems.
Lunchtime. For a twist on the typical grilled cheese sandwich, bump up the nutrition by adding slices of fresh tomato and some dried oregano leaves. A half-teaspoon of oregano has the antioxidant level of 3 cups of fresh spinach! What better and simpler way to get some more veggie-power in your day. Oregano supports the immune system and is antibacterial and antimicrobial, too, offering super antioxidant protection.
Another lunchtime favorite for many is chicken salad either on salad greens or in a pita. Naturally, to make a more spa-friendly chicken salad, you’ll want to reduce the amount of mayonnaise, use a ‘light’ variety or even try a creamy, low-fat Greek yogurt instead. And then add a few dashes of yellow curry powder along with other superfoods like some chopped nuts, dried fruit or chopped apples. It’s great on a bed of greens or stuffed in a whole grain pita.
Turmeric, the golden spice prominent in yellow curry powder, may help prevent age-related cognitive decline. Regions of India that have the highest regular consumption of turmeric also interestingly have the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s disease. This has gained the attention of researchers in the U.S. and abroad at prominent universities and research institutions where they are looking into the anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and other properties in turmeric that may play a role in protecting brain health.
Snacks and Appetizers. An easy afternoon pick-me-up is some store-bought or homemade hummus or guacamole, doctored up with two kinds of red peppers paprika and/or ground cayenne pepper (hot!) before enjoying it with crunchy raw vegetables. Another fun snack or party food is popcorn sprinkle a little salt and a dusting of cayenne onto lightly spray-oiled, air popped popcorn and you’ve got an almost irresistible crunchy snack. Red peppers (including spicy-hot cayenne, crushed red pepper flake and milder paprika) are not only beautiful but a friend to the weight-conscious, too. Research has shown that the active compound, called capsaicin, in these spices can boost metabolism and increase satiety (that feeling of being satisfied, but not stuffed after a meal.)
And add ginger to your snacks to help your workouts. It appears you may be able to recover better by what you eat. Recent research presented at the annual meeting for the American College of Sports Medicine showed that regularly consuming ground ginger may help reduce pain and inflammation associated with working out. Fancy-up a pitcher of lemonade with a sprinkle of ginger or even stir into vanilla frozen or regular nonfat yogurt. And ginger has long been used to help alleviate symptoms of nausea associated with everything from morning sickness to motion sickness and also post-chemotherapy associated nausea, too.
Dinner. Just before warming some whole grain rolls, brush the tops with olive oil then sprinkle with crushed rosemary leaves and sea salt before popping them in the oven. The wonderful aroma will inspire your senses. Rosemary can help protect against inflammation and oxidative stress, which are risk factors for cancer and heart disease. Nutrients in rosemary also play a major antioxidant role in significantly reducing HCA formation (cancer-causing compounds) that occurs during grilling.
You can also add oregano to your pasta sauces (about 1/2 teaspoon per cup of sauce) and in your salad dressings, rosemary and thyme with your chicken, fish and veggies, yellow curry in your rice or potato dishes, and sprinkle ginger on your carrots or some fresh fruit for dessert. Get creative with the multitude of ways to incorporate the super spices in your dinner meals from salad to entr©e to dessert and your tastebuds will thank you. Here’s a flavorful and nutritious recipe for Citrus Salmon with Orange Relish featuring the superfoods salmon, oranges, and heart healthy olive oil along with super spices and herbs thyme, paprika and ginger.
These are just a few of the simple and delicious ways to boost your nutrition and the flavor of your meals all year long. Remember, that herbs and spices first and foremost bring great flavor to the diet. And it’s a trick of the trade in spa cuisine featuring fresh and dried herbs in abundance, while simultaneously downplaying the role of sugar, salt and fat. It’s a tasty and healthy way to think about the ‘plus’ of adding great ingredients and flavors to your diet instead of sacrificing or depriving yourself as you pursue personal wellness by sprinkling, spooning and stirring in the super spices for health.