I hope this finds you better than ever.
“Let Thy Food Be Thy Medicine” – Hippocrates, a smart dude who wore a toga and spoke about health about 2400 years ago
Food is FIRST. Every time “food-science” gets a new “breakthrough” ingredient, nature continues to trump all in delivering clean, healthy, nutrition. (Whole-food sourced is the only way to go, whether for food or for supplements, but then, I am biased).
Eating healthy food doesn’t have to be boring. There are magical ingredients in the world that not only make food delicious, colorful and fragrant, they’re really good for you!
(well, technically 4 Magic Spices and 1 Magic Herb)
Four spices with vibrant red and yellow colors, all with equally impressive health properties: turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, and chili. Cumin is technically a herb, but most folks think of it as a spice and have it in the spice cupboard, so I’m also including one fabulous herb in this post on spices, to call it five. The science on cumin’s health benefits is at an earlier stage than the other spices, but the results look promising.
Since I wrote this with The Big Sis, who is a stickler for what has been shown in well designed clinical studies, when talking these up we are sticking to the science folks.
All of these spices taste and look fantastic when added to food. They have unique active compounds that variously act against inflammation, infection, pain, nausea, obesity, free radicals, cancer and cardiovascular disease. They also contain essential vitamins and minerals and a massive host of natural occurring anti-oxidants. If you’d like to know exactly what’s in them, check out the US Government’s national nutrient database. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list
…I will give you two great recipes for you to try at home, created by food blogger Elisa Ashenden (who also happens to be my younger sister) using THESE EXACT SPICES. These recipes are DELICIOUS, fully compliant and of course super healthy.
As with all of my posts, please consult your doctor first if you have any health conditions or take any medication. General warning: some people are allergic to certain spices.
Turmeric (also called ‘Indian saffron’) grows in South and Southeast Asia. It has been part of Indian food and Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. The roots are either used fresh or dried and ground into powder. Its scientific name is Curcuma longa and its active chemicals are the polyphenols curcumin and other curcuminoids.
Curcumin interacts with fat and muscle cells, pancreas and liver tissue, and macrophages in the immune system, helping to counteract insulin resistance and lower blood glucose and blood lipid levels.
Clinical trials show that curcumin:
Sounds good to me, let’s eat some. (Just be aware that very high doses of turmeric can increase urinary oxalate levels, increasing the risk of kidney stone formation in susceptible individuals)
Ginger belongs to the same family as turmeric and has the same geographical origins and ancient Ayurvedic history. Like turmeric, the part used for food is the root, or rhizome. Its scientific name is Zingiber officinale and its active chemicals include gingerol, shogaol, paradol, zerumbone and zingerone.
Ginger is used commonly in folk medicine to reduce nausea. While other traditional uses include digestive function, anti-inflammatory effects, a pain killer (most likely linked to any anti-inflammatory effect), and as an immune booster, the majority of clinical trials point to ginger’s ability to assist in digestive stability and combat nausea.
Clinical trials showing variable results on ginger’s anti-emetic properties suggest that its effect varies between individuals.
In clinical trials, ginger:
In animal studies, ginger:
In vitro, ginger:
Yep. Ginger is looking good, and it tastes freaken delicious.
(Warning: people with heavy susceptibility to bleeding should seek medical advice before taking large amounts of ginger due to studies suggesting it may reduce platelet activity (necessary for blood clotting).
Cinnamon spice comes from the sweet inner bark of certain trees, originally grown in Sri Lanka, India, China, the Middle East and parts of Africa. When dried, the bark curls into quills; it can also be powdered. In ancient times cinnamon was highly prized for its fragrance in Egypt and the Middle East and it has been used in traditional medicine in China for thousands of years.
The two most common types of cinnamon sold commercially are Cinnamomum verum, also called true cinnamon, Sri Lanka cinnamon or Ceylon cinnamon, and Cinnamomum cassia, also called cassia or Chinese cinnamon. The active chemicals are cinnamaldehyde, cinnzeylanine, and eugenol.
Cinnamon has antibacterial effects. In clinical trials it also appears to improve blood parameters, which may help prevent/improve diabetes and aid fat loss. However some studies show no statistically significant effect of cinnamon on blood glucose levels. The most consistent benefit observed across different studies is reduced fasting blood glucose.
Clinical trials show that cinnamon:
Note: Don’t go totally nuts: Cassia cinnamon contains high levels (up to 1%) of coumarin, the parent compound of the anticoagulant warfarin. Very high doses of coumarin are toxic. A tolerable daily intake is 0.1 mg/kg body weight. At 110 lbs, that would be about 5 grams of cinnamon. At 220lbs, about 10 grams of cinnamon, to be well inside the tolerably daily intake. To be honest, probably not going to happen.
There are many Capsicum species, including all the familiar chilies and bell peppers and many exotic others. Examples include C. annum, C. baccatum, C. chinense, C. frutescens, C. pubescens. Originally native to the Americas, the fruits of these plants contain varying degrees of the active chemical capsacin and other capsaicinoids and have been used in food since ancient times.
Absolutely chock full of bioflavonoids and anti-oxidants, and with some interesting FAT LOSS benefits, from a medical perspective, capsicum binds to receptors on nerves that sense pain.
Clinical trials show that red chili peppers:
Warning: chilies can taste HOT! as well as delicous
For those with digestive issues such as IBD and auto-immune problems this is actually a food I recommend you take out for a month or more, in line with a full elimination approach (you know, all that no grains, legumes, dairy stuff), then re-introduce carefully and assess tolerance.
The vast majority will have no problems whatsover, and that is a good thing, as capsicum’s are YUMMY.
Cumin is a herb belonging to the same family as fennel and caraway and the seeds are used in cooking. It is native to areas stretching from the Mediterranean to India. Its scientific name is Cuminum cyminum and the active chemicals are cuminaldehyde and polyphenols. It is extremely rich in vitamin C.
Very few clinical trials have been conducted on cumin. Bearing in mind that animal and ‘test tube’ (in vitro) studies cannot be extrapolated in any straightforward way to human beings, I have given a snapshot of these types of studies below. It will be exciting to see clinical trials emerge on cumin.
In animal studies, cumin:
In studies in vitro, cumin:
Warning: consult your doctor if you take warfarin or have bleeding conditions, as cumin may affect the clotting process.
|Spice||Active Ingredient||Health Area|
|Turmeric root Curcuma longa||Curcumin and other curcuminoids (polyphenols)||Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, cardiovascular system, bones and joints, anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, improves pancreas and kidney health|
|Ginger rootZingiber officinale||Gingerol, shogaol, paradol, zerumbone and zingerone||Anti-emetic (anti-nausea), antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, analgesic (pain killer), protects against DNA damage, radio-protective, and gastro-protective|
|Cinnamon barkCinnamomum species||Cinnamaldehyde, cinnzeylanine, eugenol||Anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, hypo-glycemic|
|Chili peppersCapsicum species||Capsacin and other capsaicinoids||Anti-tumor, analgesic, fat loss, hypoglycemic|
|Cumin seedsCuminum cyminum||CuminaldehydePolyphenols||(Note – not validated in clinical trials.) Antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-clotting, healthy bones, immune response, moderately hypoglycemic, anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory|
These amazing plants can not only make your life (and food) a lot more interesting, they can also help reduce inflammation and pain, improve blood sugar levels, and may have other protective effects against cardiovascular disease and tumors. The science is still not conclusive and a lot more clinical trials are needed, but these plants have an ancient and distinguished history that we should pay attention to. And of course, they taste goooooood.
IF I get 50 comments below, I will give you the delicious recipes from my little sister.
One recipe uses tumeric and cumin, the other uses ginger and chili. For cinnamon I recommend a big pinch in your daily coffee – it tastes and smells amazing.
These will be sneak peak in to some of the awesome recipes to follow in our paleo-compliant cook book coming out later this year.
“100% Focus on Happiness”
That is my mantra, and it starts with phenomenal health.
Chris “the Kiwi”
ps. 50 COMMENTS below to get the recipes. Can be as simple as “yes please, post the recipes” – fire away mate.