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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Delicious spices that are healthy

Spices that have healthful benefits are great to add to almost every meal. 
A large red cayenne pepperImage via Wikipedia

Cayenne, is a hot, fiery spice that is used extensively in Mexican and Indian cooking. The heat in cayenne pepper comes from a substance called capsaicin which is a potent anti-inflammatory agent. It also increases thermogenesis (heat production) and oxygen consumption which contributes to weight loss.  Cayenne peppers are full of beta carotene, other antioxidants and immune boosters and helps to build healthy mucous membranes tissues.

Close-up picture of cumin seeds (Cuminum cyminum).Image via Wikipedia
Cumin has a strong smoky flavor and is used widely in Middle Eastern, Mexican and Indian cooking. The seeds can be ground or used whole. It is a good source of iron, and has traditionally been used to aid digestion. Cumin seeds release their full aroma and flavor when lightly roasted.

Cinnamon is a common spice in many cultures and well known for it's musky sweet flavor. It can be used ground or whole, to flavor beverages, curries, rice dishes and desserts. The essential oils found in cinnamon give it anti-clotting and anti-microbial properties and recent studies have shown that it slows the rate at which the stomach empties after meals, reducing the rise in blood sugar after eating. Cinnamon counteracts congestion, may be useful treating osteoarthritis and improves blood circulation.


Oregano is a key ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine, and is used as a garnish, in salad dressing, or sauteed with other ingredients such as mushrooms or onions to add a subtle aromatic flavor to food. It is a nutrient dense spice with powerful anti-oxidant and anti-bacterial properties and been regarded as one of the healthy spices by the Mediterranean people for generations.

Ginger is one of the most healthy spices available. It is a strong pungent spice, widely used in Asian stir fries and many fruit and vegetable dishes. It has long been used as a herbal medicine to relieve gastrointestinal distress and nausea, and in modern times has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. It is also used as a natural remedy for cold and flu symptoms and is thought to have immune boosting action. Ginger shows promise in treating cancer, osteoarthritis and, when used topically, rheumatoid arthritis.

Turmeric contains  an entire spectrum of other health benefits like inflammation-fighting compounds called curcuminoids. These compounds may help prevent Alzheimer’s, arthritis, and carpal tunnel syndrome. When used topically turmeric has been known to help heal skin infections. Turmeric is an antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals and therefore protects against cancer.


Peppermint is a hybrid mint, a cross between the watermint (Mentha aquatica) and spearmint (Mentha spicata). The plant, indigenous to Europe, is now widespread in cultivation throughout all regions of the world.   Some health practitioners recommend using peppermint oil to address the health challenges mentioned above. If you are going to ingest peppermint oil or apply it to your skin for health-promoting purposes, be sure that the oil you use is free of synthetic menthol, and if possible, one that is made with organically grown peppermint. Also, use extremely small amounts - even one drop of peppermint oil on your tongue or skin can produce a significant physiological effect.

Fennel seedImage via Wikipedia
It is a highly aromatic and flavorful herb with culinary and medicinal uses, and is one of the primary ingredients of absinthe. Florence fennel or Finocchio is a selection with a swollen, bulb-like stem base that is used as a vegetable.  Anethole, the primary component of the plant's volatile oil, has been shown to reduce inflammation and help prevent cancer.
Rosemary is rich in rosmarinic acid, a powerful antioxidant, rosemary leaves have been shown to increase blood flow to the brain.  Rosemary may have some anti-carcinogenic properties. A study where a powdered form of rosemary was given to rats in a measured amount for two weeks showed a reduction in the binding of a certain carcinogen by 76%, and greatly reduced the formation of mammary tumors.

Cilantro helps counter indigestion, and some research suggests it may help remove toxic metals such as mercury from the body. Its sweet-tasting cousin, coriander (the seed of the same plant), also confers general health benefits. Coriander, like many spices, contains antioxidants, which can delay or prevent the spoilage of food seasoned with this spice. A study found both the leaves and seed to contain antioxidants, but the leaves were found to have a stronger effect.  Coriander seeds were found in a study on rats to have a significant hypolipidemic effect, resulting in lowering of levels of total cholesterol and triglycerides, and increasing levels of high-density lipoprotein. This effect appeared to be caused by increasing synthesis of bile by the liver and increasing the breakdown of cholesterol into other compounds.


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