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6 healing spices to keep in your kitchen

By Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D., December 22, 2010 - 3:41pm

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The Indian-Spiced Golden Turmeric Latkes with Applesauce in the November/December issue of EatingWell Magazine kicked off my recent obsession with—and first exploration into cooking—Indian food. Over the past few weeks as the number of Indian-inspired recipes (think: tikka masala, rogan josh, coconut curry) I’ve tried has grown, so has the variety of spices in my pantry. Turns out, not only are all those spices “good“ for my taste buds, but they’re also healthy for me, as Joyce Hendley researched and wrote in the same issue. Based on Hendley’s findings, these six spices—turmeric, sage, rosemary, chile pepper, ginger and cinnamon—are among the healthiest around. You can bet they’re in my pantry—and here’s why they should be in yours!

Turmeric: may help quell inflammation and inhibit tumors
In India, turmeric paste is applied to wounds to speed healing; people sip turmeric tea to relieve colds and respiratory problems. Modern medicine confirms some solid-gold health benefits as well; most are associated with curcumin, a compound in turmeric that has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin has been shown to help relieve pain of arthritis, injuries and dental procedures; it’s also being studied for its potential in managing heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. And preliminary studies have found that curcumin can inhibit tumor cell growth and suppress enzymes that activate carcinogens.
Recipe to try: Indian-Spiced Golden Turmeric Latkes with Applesauce

Sage: may help preserve memory and soothe sore throats
Today’s herbalists recommend sipping sage tea for upset stomachs and sore throats; one study found that spraying sore throats with a sage solution gave effective pain relief. And preliminary research suggests the herb may improve some symptoms of early Alzheimer’s disease by preventing a key enzyme from destroying acetylcholine, a brain chemical involved in memory and learning. In another study, college students who took sage extracts in capsule form performed significantly better on memory tests, and their moods improved.
Recipe to try: Sweet Potato & Turnip Mash with Sage Butter and More Sage Recipes

Rosemary: may help enhance mental focus and fight foodborne bacteria
One recent study found that people performed better on memory and alertness tests when mists of aromatic rosemary oil were piped into their study cubicles. Rosemary is often used in marinades for meats and poultry, and there’s scientific wisdom behind that tradition: rosmarinic acid and other antioxidant compounds in the herb fight bacteria and prevent meat from spoiling, and may even make cooked meats healthier. In March, Kansas State University researchers reported that adding rosemary extracts to ground beef helped prevent the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCAs)—cancer-causing compounds produced when meats are grilled, broiled or fried.
Recipe to try: Rosemary Flatbread with Yellow Split Pea Spread and More Rosemary Recipes

Chile Pepper: may help boost metabolism
Studies show that capsaicin—a pungent compound in hot chiles—revs up the body’s metabolism and may boost fat burning, but the jury is still out on whether that translates to long-term weight loss. Recent research found that capsinoids, similar but gentler chemicals found in milder chile hybrids, have the same effects—so even tamer sweet paprika packs a healthy punch. Capsaicin may also lower risk of ulcers by boosting the ability of stomach cells to resist infection by ulcer-causing bacteria and help the heart by keeping “bad” LDL cholesterol from turning into a more lethal, artery-clogging form.
Recipe to try: Paprika & Red Pepper Soup with Pistachio Puree and More Chile Pepper Recipes

Ginger: may help soothe an upset stomach and fight arthritis pain
Traditionally used to relieve colds and stomach troubles, ginger is rich in inflammation-fighting compounds, such as gingerols, which some experts believe may hold promise in fighting some cancers and reducing arthritis pain. In a recent study, people who took ginger capsules daily for 11 days reported 25 percent less muscle pain when they performed exercises designed to strain their muscles (compared with a similar group taking placebo capsules). Another study found that ginger extract injections helped relieve osteoarthritis pain of the knee. And ginger’s reputation as a stomach soother seems deserved: studies show ginger extracts can help reduce nausea caused by morning sickness or following surgery or chemotherapy, though it’s less effective for motion sickness.
Recipe to try: Ginger-Marinated Leg of Lamb with Israeli Couscous & Kale and More Ginger Recipes

Cinnamon: may help stabilize blood sugar
A few studies suggest that adding cinnamon to food—up to a teaspoon a day, usually given in capsule form—might help people with type 2 diabetes better control their blood sugar, by lowering post-meal blood-sugar spikes. Other studies suggest the effects are limited at best.
Recipe to try: Cinnamon Bread Pudding with Cranberry-Raisin Sauce and More Cinnamon Recipes

What are your favorite spices?

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TAGS: Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D., Healthy Cooking Blog

Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D.
Brierley holds a master’s degree in Nutrition Communication from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

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