Spice Up Your Food to Add Zip to Your Life

Dr. Brenda Gill
By Dr. Brenda Gill
August 21st, 2013

Herbs and spices have long since been used with food, not only to prevent the food from spoiling, but, to add flavour as well.  However, research is showing they pack much more of a punch than just that.  So, let’s look at some specific ones that are common in most kitchens.     

Ginger is a spice that is used in many different types of cooking and many different places in the world, because it has been shown to prevent the rancidity in meat products.  It also has a great reputation for relieving an upset digestive system, because not only is it improves stomach function, but, it is also anti-spasmotic and prevents ulcers. 

I often have people make a pot of ginger tea to settle the stomach, especially with nausea or morning sickness.  It’s good to add to cereal in the morning if you tend to have a hard time digesting grains.  Also, it’s a wonderfully warming tea in the winter and sprinkled in socks at night keep one’s feet warm!

Studies show ginger reduces nausea following surgery or chemotherapy and has been used for motion sickness.  I often have people travel with ginger pastilles (pressed ginger lozenges).  They are convenient and quite effective for motion sickness.  Ginger contains gingerols which decrease inflammation, therefore decreasing achiness and pain of osteoarthritis.  It inhibits platelet aggregation, therefore, helps prevent atherosclerosis, heart disease and strokes.  Ginger has also been shown to reduce cholesterol.        

Chili peppers, as most people know, certainly add heat to whatever they are added to and are welcome additions to winter stews and stir-fries.  Chipotle peppers will give a smoky taste, so, is a great substitute for a ham bone in split pea soup. 

Because they are heating to the body, they increase metabolic rate and help burn calories more quickly.  Capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers and cayenne, help stimulate brain chemicals that help us feel more satiated.  It also helps the body break down cholesterol more effectively to minimize the formation of LDL’s and triglycerides that have been linked to decreased clogging in the arteries and veins, therefore, helping the heart run more efficiently. 

Applied topically, chili powder will stop bleeding and as a cream, minimize pain in osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, post-amputation pain, post-masectomy pain, post-herpetic pain, diabetic neuropathy and cluster headaches by blocking substance P, a pain neurotransmitter. The cream has also been found to decreased psoriasis.

Turmeric, which gives curry and some mustards their fantastic yellow colour, has been used for many purposes, not just for cooking.  In India, it is made into a paste and applied to wounds to heal quickly, since it has been shown to be anti-bacterial.  Curcumin, one of it’s active constituents, has been shown to minimize inflammation, so, added to any food or tea, it can relieve colds, especially respiratory infections and in any type of inflammation, such as tendonitis or plantar faciitis. 

It also has anti-cancer effects and is an anti-oxidant, so, has been shown to enhance the immune system by preventing, inhibiting and decreasing cancer cell growth and minimizing enzymes that activate carcinogens.  Turmeric has also been shown to lower cholesterol levels and prevents atherosclerosis.  It is also a very strong protector of the liver, so, as we are all living in a world being exposed to toxins on an everyday basis, putting turmeric in our stir-fry would benefit all of us!  This is especially true for those that drink a little too much alcohol or coffee on a regular basis.  It has been shown to increase the biliary excretion of bile salts and bilirubin and increases the solubility of bile, therefore helping prevent and treat gallstones.

Peppermint and other mints have strong menthol components and can be used as a tea, taken as a capsule or used as an oil.  These help to minimize gas and decreased spasming, therefore, is a great tool for an upset stomach or abdominal cramps, irritable bowel or colic.  A topical oil massaged on the abdomen is wonderful relief for a baby with colic, not only because it is anti-spasmotic, but, has been shown to decrease pain. 

Peppermint also improves gall bladder function.  Menthol and peppermint oil are often components of topical nasal decongestants, cough and throat lozenges, ointments, salves and inhalants to ease breathing, open up the airways and kill viruses. 

Parsley and cilantro are also strong anti-oxidants.  Cilantro has been shown to chelate heavy metals from the body and can easily be added to pesto or any stew or soup. Parsley is a great breath freshener and has a component called apigenin that inhibits breast cancer cell growth. It has also been shown to resist the development of cancerous tumours. It’s a great one to add to smoothies!

Sage and rosemary have both been found to prevent bacteria from spoiling meat and make cooked meats healthier by preventing amines, created by grilling/broiling or frying meat, from being formed.  Rosmarinic acid in topical creams have been shown to minimize cold sores.  Sage has also been shown to enhance acetyl choline, a brain chemical utilized for memory and learning and as we all age, we certainly could use more of that! 

So, don’t hesitate to enhance your eating and drinking and add more zip to your doodah!

Brenda Gill is a naturopath practising in Rossland, BC.

Categories: Health

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