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When we think “healthy food”, our first reaction is often “It must taste lousy.” What if something could make food taste great and help you prevent and combat diseases at the same time? In every kitchen cabinet lie these magic ingredients that add life to our food – spices. While cultures around the world have always known the health benefits of spices and built them into culinary traditions, today, science is explaining the role that spices actually play in our health.
Just last week, researchers from the Clinical Nutrition Research Center, Singapore, have highlighted the far reaching health benefits of spices and called for further studies into these ‘spices for health’ that seem to have “antioxidant and anti-glycemic (diabetes control)” properties.
While many of us are familiar with these spices as ‘home-remedies’, at sepalika.com, we work hard to dig up the scientific research too. That’s why we have included only six super spices – the ones that had the scientific research to back up the traditional wisdom. As new research ratifies what we know about other spices, we will include them here.
So if you’re interested in the proof for the claims being made for these spices for health, don’t forget to scroll to the bottom of the article and browse through the “References” section.
Here are some spices that have received a thumbs up from cooks and medical researchers alike – for their contribution to taste and to great health.
For its proven ability to help with blood sugar control – making it a great herb for the millions across the globe with pre-diabetes and diabetes, this aromatic spice is a winner. What’s more, since it is filled with healing essential oils, cinnamon also helps to regulate bad cholesterol. You can read more about this versatile spice here and find yummy cinnamon based recipes too.
The main constituent of turmeric is curcumin which has impressive anti-inflammatory effects and is a compelling antioxidant. Because curcumin helps in increasing one of the brain growth hormones called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor), researchers have found it effective in helping with depression and even with Alzheimer’s disease. Turmeric is considering a great gut-healer in Ayurveda, the ancient healing science from India, and used in several IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) formulas. Turmeric helps strengthen the repair mechanisms in the body and also starts the battle against foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses in the body. This immune-boosting all-rounder is a staple in most Asian kitchens. Turmeric probably comes on tops when I rank spices that are good for you. Here’s more on the history of this fantastic spice and a simple to make, lip-smacking recipe for a turmeric based powder you can make and use in a variety of dishes.
The main constituent of ginger is gingerol, substance that gives ginger its exclusive aroma and rare flavor. Ginger is effective for many forms of nausea, including morning and sea-sickness. For this reason, it is a great aid for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Not with an immediate result, but ginger has also been found to help with post-exercise recovery by reducing workout-induced pains. It has also been studied for its anti-diabetic properties and for reduction of risk of heart disease. Finally, ginger has also been found to reduce menstrual pains consumed at the beginning of cycle. A true all-rounder and a worthy member of the spices for health club!
The medicinal properties of garlic are thanks to ‘allicin’. It is one of the many sulphur compounds that are formed when garlic is chopped. Garlic speeds up the functioning of immunity system and helps in fighting common illnesses. Studies suggest that aged garlic supplements can help reduce the blood-pressure in hypertensive patients. Garlic, when consumed as food, may reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer. may improve bone health and lower the risk of heart disease and you might live a little longer. Garlic powder has shown to improve arterial health in older people. The research support for garlic offers resounding proof of the traditionally-known health benefits of spices.
From flower to seeds, in India, holy basil is considered a tonic for the human body, mind and soul. It helps your body adapt to stress and enhances mental balance. Rich in anti-oxidants, it helps your body detox. Participants in research studies have reported lowering of stress from regular consumption of holy basil. Anxiety-reduction was also noted in another study. When we look at the benefits of spices for health, we find that several of them work by relieving stress. Holy Basil sits at the top of this pile of culinary spices and this could also explain why it has been proven to be effective in non-insulin dependent Type 2 Diabetes, a disorder in which it is believed that stress plays a huge role.
This highly aromatic, vibrant red-orange spice has been prized for its health benefits for centuries. When we look at studies that used medicinal grade extracts of the spice for treating health issues, we are able to understand the wisdom behind its traditional uses too. A 2010-study published in the Journal of Pharmacology showed that saffron was able to give the same cognitive benefits to Alzheimer’s and dementia patients as conventional drugs. Similar results were available when researchers examined the use of saffron for mild to moderate depression; the health benefits of the spice were comparable to the prescription drug fluoxetine. Saffron has been found to improve the ‘sopoforic’ or sleep inducing effects of warm milk at bedtime, making it a valuable spice for insomniacs too. There are other spices and herbs that help sleep too, that may not have scientific studies to back them yet, but have been used in traditional cultures for centuries.
So make these six super spices part of your diet. Reap the double benefits of spices – to make your food tastier and to support great health. It’s the secret hiding in plain sight – the spices for health, in your kitchen cabinet.