Throughout history, spices have been used for many purposes: enhancing the flavor of food, keeping food fresh, pleasant odors, a substitute for money, and for medicinal purposes. They may come from the roots, seeds, stems, bark, flowers, or leaves of a plant, and are usually dried and ground to a powder. Drying (dehydration) concentrates the flavor and some of the beneficial compounds of the plant. Grinding releases those compounds so the flavor is noticeable immediately. Like juicing, spice preparation allows you to receive some of the health benefits of the plant when it is not available fresh.
Even without meticulously performed scientific studies, ancient societies were aware of the curative aspects of various herbs and spices. Here are some of the well-known benefits of certain spices:
- Black pepper: anti-bacterial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Cardamom: can calm an upset stomach, is high in magnesium and zinc, and may fight inflammation.
- Coriander: high in phytonutrients, anti-anxiety, can lower cholesterol, and has anti-inflammatory properties.
- Cinnamon: sweet, but low calorie, tends to lower blood sugar, and helps reduce inflammation.
- Cloves: an expectorant, and may reduce inflammation in the mouth and throat.
- Ginger: helps fight infections, treats upset stomach and headaches, and is anti-inflammatory.
- Turmeric: treats wounds and infections. Contains curcumin, which is shown to reduce inflammation.
- Garlic: one of the most powerful collection of phytochemicals for immune system, a strong anti-inflammatory.
Do you notice a pattern? Many spices fight inflammation. Inflammation generally precedes disease. It is no wonder that spices have been valued for their medicinal properties for generations. When you consider the anti-oxidant, anti-infection, and pre-biotic effect of many spices, and you just can’t afford not using them!
Of course, today we can study the health benefits in controlled trials. Studies show that spices are an underused weapon to fight disease. One study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, compared the blood chemistries of people with little or no spice in their meals with those who had six grams of a blend of generally anti-inflammatory spices. The study confirmed a reduction in inflammatory cytokines for hours after eating the spicy meal. Other studies have probed the effects of single spices: the American Association for Cancer Research studied capsaicin (the “hot” of red peppers) and found that it reduced prostate-specific antigen (PSA) and androgen response (AR) in study subjects. The Arthritis Foundation suggests turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne, and garlic to reduce joint inflammation. Boswellia (Frankincense), rosemary, oregano, saffron, and thyme are considered by many to be anti-inflammatory.
Researchers also point out that spices have a relatively mild effect: don’t expect them to make up for a poor diet. With an already low inflammation diet, they are very noticeably helpful. But the inflammation-causing diet: refined carbohydrates, meat (especially processed meat), most popular vegetable oils, sugar, and artificial trans-fats do much more damage than spices can overcome.
Herbs and spices
Herbs are similar to spices in that they are plant extracts. Herbs are usually derived from leaves. Most herbs are not flavor enhancers, so you are not likely to sprinkle them on your favorite meal. Many are strong anti-inflammatories as well.
Starting with a plant rich in phytonutrients, then concentrating them allows you to consume many more plants than you could possibly eat otherwise. While it doesn’t preserve 100% of the phytonutrients, the concentration factor makes up the difference. But fresh is always best.
Herbs and spices were the medicine of the past, before there was a pharmaceutical industry. Plants are exquisitely designed chemical factories, and their variety is incredible. A certain natural drug may exist in only one variety of a plant. Drug companies still study plants to find more potential drug options. But they miss the balance of chemicals in the plant, and synthesis of plant chemicals often makes slight alterations in the compounds which fool the body into accepting them and building them into the body’s structure. Much like inferior building materials may still make an impressive building: the structure looks fine, but the building won’t hold up under stress.
Spicing is a simple and flavorful way to bring potent plant value into your diet.
Dr. Nemec’s comments:
Plants are a storehouse of phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and biophotons. The fresh picked has the highest amount of every substance in the best combination. That is why living and raw food is so important in health and healing. The more you cook the more you lose nutrients. So which do you think has the most enzymes, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals with the least amount of oxidative free radicals: ginger powder in a capsule that has been in the capsule for six months, or fresh ginger root blending in a smoothie? How about turmeric? Fresh root blended in your juice, or one year old capsule with a certain unknown amount of oxidation, processing and free radical formation? Yes, when herbs and spices are low temperature dehydrated below 110 F and concentrated to increase quantities you can take more of them but they are never as powerful as the original state the plant grew in. So the rule is: fresh is best, but if you cannot get fresh then second best is home grown and dehydrated. Third is dehydrated organic purchased. Some of the phytochemicals are heat resistant and some are not. The key point is get the spices and herbs in, one way or another, for your health.