I don’t recommend that my patients eat out too often. Most restaurant food just isn’t that healthy. But the recent explosion of Thai, Indian and other “exotic” cuisines isn’t all bad news. It’s given Americans a taste for spicy foods.
What we were missing, though, wasn’t just flavor. Many spices have tremendous health benefits, too. Today we’ll look at four I think should be in every kitchen.
Pass the Healthy Hot Peppers, Please
Cayenne and other hot red peppers pack a lot more than heat. That five-alarm chili is good for you, too. The active ingredient in hot peppers – capsaicin – is often used in topical pain relief gels and creams. But it has other benefits, too.
For example, there’s good evidence it can help you burn off extra pounds. When Korean researchers added hot pepper to people’s meals, they burned more carbohydrates. And it worked whether the people were relaxing or working out.1
Thai scientists also discovered that hot peppers help prevent spikes in blood sugar after a meal. It even worked after women had a sweet, sugary drink.2 This is great news for anyone with blood sugar problems.
Finally, capsaicin may not just be for topical use. Animal studies in Turkey indicate hot peppers may reduce inflammation internally, as well.3
And with inflammation linked to all sorts of health problems, it seems appropriate that our next spice should have anti-inflammatory powers, too.
A Health Secret from the Far East
Many American cooks have never heard of turmeric, but it’s commonly found in curry powder. And like other potent spices, turmeric packs a punch when it comes to health.
An article in the Annals of the NY Academy of Sciences lists turmeric as helpful in no less than eight serious health problems linked to inflammation.4
That alone should put turmeric on your spice shelf. But it gets better. The folks at University College Medical School in London reviewed a number of studies. Here’s some of what they learned about turmeric:
- It has strong anti-inflammatory properties
- Curcumin – the active ingredient in turmeric – is a powerful antioxidant
- It may have prebiotic qualities (nourishing the good bacteria in your gut)
- It could be useful against digestive problems, liver and kidney trouble, respiratory and blood sugar problems and even abnormal cell growth5
Is it any wonder that turmeric is one of my top choices for your kitchen – and for maintaining your health?
My third choice is star performer, too.
More Than Just a Side Dish With Sushi
Ginger is another must-have item for your spice rack. It’s an old folk remedy for “morning sickness” and motion sickness. And clinical research has proven it’s effective for both.6, 7
In various animal and human studies, ginger has also been shown effective against joint pain and even some breathing problems.8, 9 This is probably due to ginger’s anti-inflammatory powers. But new research hints that ginger may have an unexpected benefit.
Staffers at Pakistan’s Aga Khan University have discovered that ginger may be useful in fighting mental decline.10 There’s still more work to be done before we’ll know the whole story. But with all of ginger’s other benefits, it’s worth adding it to your diet anyway.
Finally, let’s talk about one spice that may already be in your diet.
Cinnamon – The Surprise Powerhouse
You always knew cinnamon tastes great in pumpkin pie. But did you know it’s great for blood sugar, too?11 That’s what a researcher at the USDA’s Human Nutrition Research Center found.
In fact, a paper presented in The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society last year points out that cinnamon can also help lower cholesterol, cut body fat and increase lean muscle mass.11
Not bad for a spice most people just sprinkle on toast with a little sugar. But it’s not all. At least one animal study found that cinnamon can also help lower blood pressure.12
Spice Up Your Life… and Your Health
What more reason could you need to add more spices to your meals? So chow down on low-fat chili… cook up the curries. You’ll not only boost the flavor of your food, you’ll boost your family’s health, too.
Dr. Kenneth Woliner,
Best Life Herbals
2 Chaiyata P, et al. Effect of chili pepper (Capsicum frutescens) ingestion on plasma glucose response and metabolic rate in Thai women. J Med Assoc Thai. 2003 Sep;86(9):854-60.
3 Demirbilek S, et al. Small-dose capsaicin reduces systemic inflammatory responses in septic rats. Anesth Analg. 2004 Nov;99(5):1501-7; table of contents.
4 Shishodia S, et al. Curcumin: getting back to the roots.. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2005 Nov;1056:206-17.
5 Bengmark S, et al. Plant-derived health: the effects of turmeric and curcuminoids. Nutr Hosp. 2009 May-Jun;24(3):273-81.
6 Ozgoli G, et al. Effects of ginger capsules on pregnancy, nausea, and vomiting. J Altern Complement Med. 2009 Mar;15(3):243-6.
7 Lien HC, et al. Effects of ginger on motion sickness and gastric slow-wave dysrhythmias induced by circular vection. Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2003 Mar;284(3):G481-9.
8 Shen CL, et al. Comparative effects of ginger root (Zingiber officinale Rosc.) on the production of inflammatory mediators in normal and osteoarthrotic sow chondrocytes. J Med Food. 2005 Summer;8(2):149-53.
9 Ghayur MN, et al. Ginger attenuates acetylcholine-induced contraction and Ca2+ signalling in murine airway smooth muscle cells. Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 2008 May;86(5):264-71.
10 Ghayur MN, et al. Muscarinic, Ca(++) antagonist and specific butyrylcholinesterase inhibitory activity of dried ginger extract might explain its use in dementia. J Pharm Pharmacol. 2008 Oct;60(10):1375-83.
11 Anderson R. Chromium and polyphenols from cinnamon improve insulin sensitivity. The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 2008 Feb;67(1):48-53.
12 Preuss HG, et al. Whole cinnamon and aqueous extracts ameliorate sucrose-induced blood pressure elevations in spontaneously hypertensive rats. J Am Coll Nutr. 2006 Apr;25(2):144-50.