Picture source: Fickr, by: Gavin BellNext month, I will be covering a health topic as one of twelve Featured Health Editors of Healthbuzz, from Foodbuzz. My focus for August will be trends in food, health, and fitness and whether they are worth the hype.
What a fun topic to tackle!
I thought I’d kick off this month with spices and herbs. Haven’t you noticed that cooking with these ingredients is becoming the hip, gourmet, and foodie-appeal way? The biggest part of it is the taste. We’re becoming more familiar with spices and seasonings of the west, the east, and everywhere else in between, and we want to add more flavor and “kick” to our food. We are getting exposed to cuisines of the world and we want to bring them home to our kitchens.
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What about the health buzz surrounding them? I doubt that every person who sprinkles cinnamon has thought of how it will help lower blood sugar or how can turmeric boost antioxidant level.
But there are sure many people who do think of spices and herbs potential for disease prevention and health promotion. Can they live up to this hype?
I’ve written about turmeric before and it seems to be a very effective antioxidant with the potential of preventing cancers, fighting inflammation, preventing heart disease and diabetes, lowering blood sugar level for people with diabetes, boosting the immune function, and more.
For managing diabetes, several spices and herbs have promising outcomes. Cinnamon helps lower blood sugar level, cumin may prevent or delay diabetic cataract, onions reduce kidney and liver damage associated with uncontrolled blood sugar level, and garlic may prevent cardiovascular complications from occurring along with diabetes.
If you look at a food’s ORAC value, which measures its antioxidant capacity, you’ll see that spices and herbs are way on the top. Spices like cloves, summac, cinnamon, oregano, turmeric, cumin, parsley, basil, curry powder, sage, mustard seeds, ginger, black pepper, thyme, marjoram, and many more head the list.
Great. But there are two downsides to the spices and herbs story.
One: studies that find health promotion or disease prevention outcomes often use special formulations of the spice; an extract or a concentrated pill, that doesn’t reflect how people commonly use this spice in the kitchen and in their cooking.
Two: I’m not a big fan of ORAC values. As I mentioned in a previous post about free radicals and antioxidants, ORAC values measure antioxidant activity against one type of free radicals. But there are many to fight! Not so straightforward afterall!
My bottom line on spices and herbs:
I follow and recommend “do no harm” policy. Spices and herbs for cooking have been used for years since ancient times with no side effects and with potential for health benefits. Even if this potential is not supported by conclusive and strong evidence, or “more studies are needed to recommend X spice for X population” is the conclusion from the latest study, I would not steer away from them! They offer the great potential of you enjoying your food, especially your vegetables! Enjoy them for the color, taste, aroma, and the whole meal experience, and think less of how they could physiologically affect your body from the inside.
Do I recommend a certain spice pill? Absolutely not. Unless you are using it for a specific condition AND under the close supervision of a physician or a registered dietitian, save your money and hit the food market instead.
And since spices can be costly in mainstream grocers, look for ethnic stores in your area. Indian spices tend to be cheaper in Indian stores, and the same goes for Latin, African, Middle Eastern, and Asian spices. For most spices, store in an airtight container in a cool, dry, and dark place.
Question for you:
What are some food, health, and nutrition trends that you would like me to address this month? I have a bunch on my list and would love to research yours as well!
Have a great Wednesday!