Originally published October 23 2008
Spices: A Wealth of Health Benefits that Make Food Taste Great
by Barbara L. Minton
(NaturalNews) Spices do more than make food taste great. Recent research is showing that spices can promote health and well being through a series of actions that are anti-aging and inhibiting of degenerative disease. The vegetarian diet so often associated with good health and lack of disease relies heavily on the use of spice. But you don't have to be a vegetarian to gain the amazing health benefits these inexpensive flavor enhancers have to offer.
The addition of spices can turn up the taste of almost any food. Add some chili pepper, cumin or turmeric to mashed potatoes or rice. Sprinkle marjoram or rosemary on your salads, and dress up cottage cheese with whatever spicy flavor appeals to you. Add spice to vegetable dishes and sprinkle it on meats, poultry or fish before cooking. Spice up your veggie juices and smoothies. Any way you do it, adding spice means adding a wealth of health benefits.
Recent research continues to show the power of these natural medicines
Spices have more antioxidant power, measure for measure, than fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants help prevent cancer, Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, and premature aging. In a study reported in the British Journal of Nutrition, fifteen aromatic herbs and spices consumed in Central Italy as part of the Mediterranean diet were studied to reveal total phenolic, flavonoid and flavanol content as well as their antioxidant potential as measured by oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC). Comparison was made between salads to which aromatic herbs had been added. The addition of lemon balm and marjoram increased by 150% and 200% respectively the antioxidant capacity of a salad portion, corresponding to an intake of 200 mg. of phenolics and 4000 ORAC units. Among other spices tested, cumin and fresh ginger made the most significant contribution to antioxidant capacity.
Another study reported in the Journal of Medicine and Food examined the effects of a spice mixture on oxidative stress markers and antioxidant potential in tissues of insulin-resistant rats. Addition of the spice mixture reduced the levels of lipid peroxidation (break down of fats resulting in free radical formation) markers in tissues and improved glucose metabolism and antioxidant status of the rats even though they continued to be fed their fructose diet.
A study in Prostaglandins Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids reported that spices possess antioxidant activity that can preserve the integrity of lipids and reduce lipid peroxidation. Researchers investigated the antioxidant activities of selected spice extracts on peroxidation. The spices tested were garlic, ginger, onion, mint, cloves, cinnamon and pepper. Cloves exhibited the highest and onion showed the least antioxidant activity. The relative antioxidant activities decreased in the order of cloves, cinnamon, pepper, ginger, garlic, mint and onion. Spices mixes of ginger, onion and garlic; onion and ginger; and ginger and garlic showed cumulative inhibition of lipid peroxidation, exhibiting synergistic antioxidant activity. The antioxidant activity of the spice extracts was retained even after boiling for 30 minutes, indicating that the spice constituents were resistant to thermal denaturing.
The Journal of Medicine and Food also reported an investigation in which researchers bought 24 herbs and spices at a local supermarket. After testing them they found that many appeared to have the power to inhibit tissue damage and inflammation brought on by high blood-sugar levels in the body. They inhibited the glycation process which has been linked to inflammation and tissue damage in diabetics. The spices with the greatest effects were cloves, cinnamon, allspice, apple pie spice, and pumpkin pie spice. Top herbs included marjoram, sage and thyme.
Another study from the Journal of Medicine and Food investigated the effects of red chili, cumin, and black pepper on colon cancer induced in rats. They found that cumin and black pepper suppressed the onset of colon cancer.
Aspergillus parasiticus, commonly known as aflatoxin, is a carginogenic mold that is found on improperly stored grains and peanuts. In a study reported in the Journal of Medicine and Food, the inhibitory effects of 16 spice hydrosols (anise, basil, cumin, dill, Aegean sage, fennel, laurel, mint, oregano, pickling herb, rosemary, sage, savory, sea fennel, sumac and thyme) on the aflatoxin strain were investigated in vitro. The hydrosols of anise, cumin, fennel, mint, pickling herb, oregano, savory, and thyme showed a strong inhibitory effect, while sumac, sea fennel, rosemary, sage, Aegean saage, laural, basil and rosemary were unable to totally inhibit the growth.
These researchers also studied the effects essential oils from of black thyme, cumin, fennel, laurel, marjoram, mint, oregano, pickling herb, sage, savory and thyme against Bacillus species of bacteria. All of the tested oils except laurel showed antibacterial activity against one or more of the Bacillus species used in the study. Researchers concluded that essential oils of some spices may be used as antimicrobial agents to prevent the spoilage of food products. Foods that will be left standing out for a period of time without refrigeration can be made safe with the addition of some of these spices and herbs.
Spices that stand out for their health benefits
All spices confer a list of health benefits. The addition of any of them to a prepared dish, drink, or in a supplement form will help to reduce free radical damage and combat the effects of aging. Here are a few spices that offer outstanding benefits.
Cinnamon – Three key proteins are highly important in insulin signaling, glucose transport and inflammatory response, according to Richard Anderson, researcher with the U.S.D.A. Cinnamon has insulin-like qualities that come from the release of these proteins. His and other studies have shown that just 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon a day can help lower the risk of the constellation of factors associated with metabolic syndrome – high blood cholesterol, triglyceride and glucose levels – by as much as 10 to 30 percent.
A study in Hormone Metabolism Research found that cinnamon prevents insulin resistance even in animals eating a high-fructose diet.
Cinnamon is anti-microbial and can stop the growth of bacteria, fungi and yeast. A study in the International Journal of Food Microbiology found that a few drops of cinnamon essential oil added to carrot broth were able to preserve it and fight pathogens.
Cinnamon has anti-clotting and anti-inflammatory properties, which reduce clumping of blood platelets. It is suspected that cinnamon boosts brain function. Of all the spices, cinnamon is one of the richest sources of antioxidants.
Ginger – Gingerol, the active ingredient in ginger, has been shown to significantly help with nausea, vomiting, and morning sickness. It was found to be as twice as effective as Dramamine in preventing motion sickness. It is a powerful antioxidant, and is thought to relax blood vessels, stimulate blood flow and relieve pain. It is a common digestive aid and useful for people suffering the side effects of chemotherapy. Its anti-inflammatory abilities make it useful in fighting heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and arthritis.
Oregano – Thymol and carvacrol are two of oregano's potent antibacterial properties. A study in Mexico found oregano to be more effective against an amoeba than a common prescription drug called tinidazol. Oregano works in the intestinal tract to kill unfriendly bacteria without damage to the friendly bacteria. It is a effective against candida albicans overgrowth throughout the body, and particularly in the sinus cavities. It has 4 times the antioxidant activity of blueberries.
Rosemary – In winter, a rosemary bush inside the house in acts as a natural air cleaner and freshener, along with being a source for the herb to use in cooking. Rosemary stops gene mutations that could lead to cancer, and may help prevent damage to the blood vessels, thereby reducing heart attack risk.
Turmeric – This bright yellow spice of Indian cuisine is one of nature's most powerful healers. It is a potent anti-inflammatory that acts as effectively as drugs like hydrocortisone, phenylbutazone and Motrin. It is helpful with inflammatory bowel diseases, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, cystic fibrosis, cancer and Alzheimer's disease. Recent research shows it as positive for cardiovascular and liver protection.
When combined with cruciferous vegetables, turmeric has shown to prevent prostate cancer and stop the growth of existing prostate tumors. It prevented breast cancer from spreading to the lungs in mice. It may prevent melanoma and cause existing melanoma cells to die. Turmeric may also prevent metastasis from occurring in many different forms of cancer.
Turmeric has been shown to reduce the risk of childhood leukemia, and shows promise in slowing the progression of multiple sclerosis. It is a natural liver detoxifier and one of nature's most effective pain relievers through inhibition of COX-2.
Garlic – This wonder drug of nature destroys cancer cells and may disrupt the metabolism of tumor cells. Studies show that two cloves of garlic weekly provide cancer-protective benefits. A recent study showed that eating garlic boosts the body's supply of hydrogen sulfide, which acts as an antioxidant and transmits cellular signals that relax blood vessels and increase blood flow.
In another recent study, researchers extracted juice from supermarket garlic and added small amounts to human red blood cells. The cells immediately began emitting hydrogen sulfide. This ability to increase hydrogen sulfide production may explain why a garlic rich diet is so protective against various cancers, including breast, prostate and colon cancer. It may also explain why garlic appears to protect the heart. A recent study found that injecting hydrogen sulfide into mice almost completely prevented the damage to heart muscle cause by a heart attack.
Garlic has a reputation as preventative and treatment for the common cold. It's used to treat the symptoms of acne and there is evidence that it can assist in managing high cholesterol levels. It even appears to be a natural mosquito repellent.
Sage – This herb contains flavonoids, phenolic acids and oxygen handling enzymes. This results in its ability to prevent oxygen-based damage to cells. Sage may fight rheumatoid arthritis, bronchial asthma and atherosclerosis. It appears to promote better brain function. A study showed that people given sage essential oil had significantly improved recall abilities compared to those given a placebo.
Red chili peppers – These peppers contain capsaicin, a powerful anti-inflammatory compound that helps relieve pain. They ease congestion and clear mucus from the lungs and nose, boost immunity, prevent stomach ulcers by killing bacteria, assist in weight loss, reduce blood cholesterol, manage triglyceride levels, and prevent cancer including stomach cancer.
Coriander – This herb is effective against swelling, high cholesterol levels, diarrhea, mouth ulcers, anemia, digestion, menstrual disorders, conjunctivitis, and skin disorders. It is antioxidant rich and contains vitamins A and C, and minerals. It is protective of the eye by preventing macular degeneration and soothing the eye against stress. It has a stimulating effect on the endocrine system which in turn stimulates the production of insulin, resulting in increased insulin in the blood to aid in proper assimilation and absorption of sugar and lower the sugar level in the blood.
Parsley – Chief among the abilities of parsley is cancer fighting. Animal studies have shown that parsley inhibits tumor formation, particularly in the lungs. It neutralizes carcinogens including those found in cigarette smoke. It is a good source of antioxidants and heart-healthy nutrients such as beta-carotene, folic acid, and vitamins A and C.
"Health Benefits of Coriander," Organic Facts.
"Spice of Life: Health Benefits of Spices and Herbs," Mind, Body and Spirit Fitness.
Howard Dratch, "Spice Up Your Life: The Health Benefits of Spices," BC Sci/Tech.
"20 Health Benefits of Turmeric," Eat This.
Tara Parker-Pope, "Unlocking the Benefits of Garlic," The New York Times, October 15, 2007.
About the authorBarbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.
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