Doctor’s Tip: More benefits of herbs and spices
We are working our way through Dr. Michael Greger’s daily dozen from his book “How Not to Die.” The second half of the book discusses the foods we should be eating every day and why. In last week’s column the focus was on turmeric, because of its amazing health-promoting properties. Today’s column is about other herbs and spices.
Since humans began farming some 10,000 years ago, they have managed to “breed” the nutrition out of many foods by selectively raising more sweet varieties and more recently by raising fruits and vegetables that are more pleasing to the eye.
Take corn for example: The original corn was the multi-colored “Indian corn” that people buy for Thanksgiving decorations. Color in food is associated with antioxidants and other health-promoting nutrients, and this original corn was full of beneficial nutrients. Modern sweet corn tastes good but is mainly sugar, with few nutrients.
Humans have not tried to change the taste of herbs and spices because they are prized for the taste they had originally. Like intense color, intense flavors are associated with health benefits.
Here are the benefits of several spices and herbs:
1. Fenugreek seed is a spice often used in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking. It has powerful anticancer properties in the lab, and improves muscle strength in weightlifters. It is crunchy and tastes good sprinkled on steel cut oatmeal in the morning.
2. Cilantro is a common component of salsa. People either love or hate it, which is probably genetic. In one study, 20 sprigs of cilantro daily reduced inflammation in arthritis sufferers and cut uric acid levels in half in people with gout.
3. Cayenne pepper is what makes hot peppers hot. The medicinal form is called capsaicin, and if applied to the skin over a painful area for five days, it uses up the pain neurotransmitter called substance P, and the pain resolves. Taken orally, it has also been shown to help with cluster headaches, the pain of irritable bowel syndrome and chronic indigestion.
4. Ginger helps with menstrual cramps and nausea, including “morning sickness” of pregnancy, and has been shown to be safe in pregnancy.
5. Mint is often used in Middle Eastern salads, Indian chutneys and Vietnamese cooking and is the most antioxidant-packed common herb.
6. Oregano has been shown to decrease chromosome damage by 70 percent in people receiving radiation, and in the lab it shows anti-inflammatory properties. Marjoram is a related herb with similar benefits.
7. Cloves are the most antioxidant-packed common spice.
8. Amla is powdered dried Indian gooseberry fruit, which Dr. Greger says is the most antioxidant-packed uncommon spice.
9. Fennel can improve athletic performance and fight menstrual cramps.
10. Cinnamon helps lower blood sugar.
So spicing up your food not only makes it tastier, but also makes it healthier. Spice mixes are a good way to get a variety of spices. Examples are pumpkin pie spice, curry power, chili powder, Chinese five-spice powder and Italian seasoning. Do not overdo any one spice. For example, the toxic dose of nutmeg is 2-3 teaspoons. And high doses of cinnamon can cause liver toxicity.
Most of these spices and herbs can be found locally at Vitamin Cottage. If not, try the internet or Middle Eastern or Asian markets in Denver. To learn more, go to Dr. Greger’s website nutritionfact.org, and go to search in the upper right corner.
Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, now has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and any other medical concerns. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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