The World's 7 Most Potent Disease-Fighting Spices
Spices can add much more than flavor, color and variety to
your favorite foods; many also have unique health-promoting
properties. So if salt and pepper are the only spices in your
kitchen, you're missing out on a host of interesting flavors
and some potentially potent health benefits.
"There have been many recent studies validating the
historic habit of using spices for health benefits,'' says
Donna Tainter, a food technologist and author of "Spices
and Seasonings, A Food Technology Handbook."
If you're looking for the most health bang for your buck,
these seven spices top the list in terms of taste and disease-fighting
Health Benefits: The active ingredient in ginger is
gingerol, a compound that's thought to relax blood vessels,
stimulate blood flow and relieve pain. It's commonly used
as a digestive aid and contains compounds that ease motion
sickness and nausea and inhibit vomiting. This makes it a
helpful spice for morning sickness or for people suffering
from the side effects of chemotherapy.
Ginger is also an anti-inflammatory, which means it may be
useful in fighting heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's disease
and arthritis. Plus, it's high in antioxidants that fight
all kinds of diseases.
How it's Used: Ginger can be used freshly ground from
the root (see picture) in Asian dishes, as well as in any
type of meat, seafood or vegetable dish. Ginger is commonly
served along with sushi. Dried ground ginger is typically
used in desserts and baking (gingerbread cookies, etc.), and
it's also available candied and pickled. Fresh ginger root
can also be used to make a soothing ginger tea.
Interesting Tidbit: The health benefits of ginger
were documented over 2,000 years ago!
Health Benefits: Two of oregano's compounds, thymol
and carvacrol, have potent antibacterial properties. In fact,
a study in Mexico found that oregano was more effective against
an amoeba than a common prescription drug called tinidazol.
Oregano is also a potent antioxidant, rich in phytonutrients.
On a per gram basis, fresh oregano has:
42 times more antioxidant activity than apples
30 times more than potatoes
12 times more than oranges
4 times more than blueberries
How it's Used: Fresh or dried oregano can be added
to Italian dishes, salad dressings, egg dishes, vegetables,
meats and more.
Interesting Tidbit: Oregano means "mountain joy"
and is sometimes called wild marjoram in Europe. It's closely
related to the herb sweet marjoram.
Health Benefits: Cinnamon is an anti-microbial food
that can stop the growth of bacteria, fungi and yeast. A study
in the August 2003 International Journal of Food Microbiology
also found that a few drops of cinnamon essential oil added
to carrot broth was able to effectively preserve the food
and fight pathogenic organisms--all while improving the flavor
of the broth.
It also has anti-clotting and anti-inflammatory properties,
which help prevent unwanted clumping of blood platelets. And,
it may help boost brain function.
People with diabetes should also take note that cinnamon
is a useful tool to help control blood sugar. A study in the
December 2003 Diabetes Care found that eating one to six grams
of cinnamon daily significantly reduced blood sugar levels
in people with type 2 diabetes. Meanwhile, it also reduced
their triglyceride levels, LDL (bad) cholesterol and total
Plus, a study in the February 2004 Hormone Metabolism Research
found that this tasty spice appears to prevent insulin resistance
even in animals eating a high-fructose diet.
And that's not all. Cinnamon is a powerful antioxidant. A
study in the Journal of Nutrition found that out of all spices,
cinnamon is one of the richest sources of disease-fighting
How it's Used: Cinnamon comes ground and in sticks,
and can be used in Mexican, Middle Eastern and other ethnic
dishes, curries, vegetables, tea, beverages, and of course,
Interesting Tidbit: In traditional Chinese medicine,
cinnamon is used in a tea along with ginger to fight the onset
of colds and flu.
Health Benefits: Curcumin, which gives turmeric its
bright yellow color, is thought to be the active ingredient
in this spice. It's a potent anti-inflammatory that studies
have found is just as effective as drugs like hydrocortisone,
phenylbutazone and Motrin. This spice has been found to be
helpful in fighting inflammatory bowel diseases, including
Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis,
cystic fibrosis, cancer and Alzheimer's disease. It's also
shown promise in offering cardiovascular and liver protection.
How it's Used: Turmeric powder can be added to rice
dishes, egg salad, salad dressings, curries, beans and sauces.
It has a warm, peppery flavor similar to ginger and orange.
Interesting Tidbit: Turmeric is the spice commonly
used in curries that gives them their yellow color. It's also
what makes traditional mustard yellow!
Health Benefits: Sage is an anti-inflammatory and
antioxidant. It contains flavonoids, phenolic acids and oxygen-handling
enzymes, all of which give it a unique ability to prevent
oxygen-based damage to cells. Sage may be useful in fighting
rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions, bronchial
asthma and atherosclerosis.
Sage also appears to promote better brain function. A study
in the June 2003 Pharmacological Biochemical Behavior found
that people given sage essential oil extracts had significantly
improved recall abilities compared to those given a placebo.
How it's Used: Sage's subtle, sweet flavor makes it
a very versatile herb. It can be added to soups, sauces, salad
dressings, meat dishes, casseroles, vegetables, eggs, salads
Interesting Tidbit: Sage means "to be saved."
Because sage is so effective in protecting oxygen-based damage,
several companies have been conducting experiments using sage
as a natural additive to cooking oils to extend shelf life
and prevent the oils from going rancid.
Health Benefits: These peppers, which include the
popular cayenne pepper, contain capsaicin, an anti-inflammatory
compound that helps with pain relief. Chili peppers have been
found to help:
Clear congestion by clearing mucus from the lungs and
Prevent stomach ulcers by killing bacteria
Help with weight loss
Reduce blood cholesterol, triglyceride levels and platelet
Prevent cancers, including stomach cancer
How it's Used: Chili peppers are, of course, great
in Mexican dishes, but that's not all. Try them with other
vegetables, tuna salad, chili, corn bread, dips, curries,
soups, sauces and more.
Interesting Tidbit: The hotter the pepper, the more
capsaicin it contains. Some of the hottest chili peppers out
there are the habañero, Scotch bonnet, and jalapeño
Health Benefits: Chief among parsley's beneficial
properties is its ability to fight cancer. Animal studies
have shown that it can inhibit tumor formation, particularly
in the lungs. It's also known to neutralize carcinogens including
those found in cigarette smoke and charcoal grill smoke.
Parsley is also a rich source of antioxidants and heart-protective
nutrients including vitamin C, beta-carotene and folic acid.
How it's Used: Parsley comes in two popular varieties,
curly and flat leaf. Fresh parsley is more flavorful than
the dried variety. The curly version tends to have a more
intense flavor than the flat-leaf variety. Use it in soups,
salads and casseroles, or to top fish, meat, potatoes, vegetables
Interesting Tidbit: Parsley is a great breath freshener
at the end of a meal.
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Miami Herald July 28, 2005