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Spice is Nice!

Inspire Health Event Calendar December 5, 2013

An abundance of colourful and pungent warming spices are available to add to our diet in the fall and winter seasons. Spices not only offer flair and flavor to any dish but also are powerhouses of phytonutrients. With benefits from anti-inflammatory effects to blood sugar balance, immune support to digestive aid, adding a small amount of spice to our foods each day is an easy way to support our health. 

A few things to consider

Irradiation

Ground spices are often exposed to small amounts of radiation to kill any potential microbes, pests or bacteria.  Irradiating spices can destroy their nutrient content and alter their positive therapeutic effects. By law, any food that is irradiated must display the Radura symbol, the international seal of irradiation. Choosing organic spices will also guarantee that the spice has not been exposed to radiation. 

Synergy

The harmonious working together of certain foods and spices has been well documented. Mixing certain spices not only expands the flavour profile, but also has been shown to increase the overall therapeutic effect of their compounds. 

We see this represented in typical cuisines from around the world, for example, curry, which is a blend of turmeric, black pepper, cumin and coriander. Middle Eastern mixes like black pepper, cumin, cinnamon and cloves and Latin American blends with chili, paprika, cumin, garlic and oregano.

We have also discovered that adding black pepper to any of these spices or blends can significantly increase the bioavailability of their nutrients.

Storage

The volatile oils which provide much of the therapeutic benefit of certain spices can easily be destroyed or diminished over time with exposure to air, light, heat and humidity. Store your spices in glass jars or tins and keep them in a cool and dark place (such as the freezer, pantry or cupboard away from the stove) to help ensure their potency and flavor. Freshly ground spices kept in the freezer can easily last up to 6 months. Remember that fresh is always ideal, so discard that old packet of paprika that’s been hanging around for a couple years and replenish your supplies regularly.

The Warming Spices

Here are some wonderfully warming and therapeutic spices, perfect for fall and winter weather, and a few ideas of how to incorporate them into our diets:

Cinnamon

The heart-warming scent of cinnamon is often around us in the cooler seasons, as it is used in things like pumpkin pie and traditional chai. Aside from warming the body, cinnamon can assist in balancing blood sugar. It can also lend a sweet flavour to foods, which is helpful when trying to cut down on sugar intake. Try adding ½ a tsp or so to whole-grain porridge, or make a warming smoothie with almond milk, pumpkin puree, cinnamon and nutmeg and ginger. Cinnamon is also delicious in mashed yams or butternut squash and in dressings such as honey-mustard vinaigrette.

Turmeric

A rather miraculous spice, tumeric provides many benefits to the body. Curcumin, the main therapeutic substance in turmeric that gives the rich yellow pigment, has a strong anti-inflammatory effect on the body.  It is also warming and bitter in nature, making it excellent for liver support, as well as aiding digestion. Tumeric has powerful anti-oxidant properties and may slow the growth and spread of some types of cancer. Using this spice daily in a variety of ways can have significant health benefits.

Turmeric can be added to any egg dish such as scrambled eggs, omelets, or frittatas and is an essential component to any curry. Try sprinkling it on rice dishes, in soups and even in fresh vegetable juices. It can also easily be added to hummus and other bean dips. A good goal is to use a half teaspoon daily. 

Cayenne

A little goes a long way with this hot pepper. Aside from being high in vitamin C and wonderful for circulation, it’s warming and stimulating effects can be excellent at the onset of a cold to help induce sweating. Try using it with garlic in broths and soups or adding a pinch to your ginger tea. Cayenne adds a kick to chili or salsas and even fresh vegetable juices. You can also make a mean black bean dip with a pinch of cayenne, smoked paprika, chili powder and garlic. 

Ginger 

Used for centuries as remedy for nausea and as an anti-inflammatory, ginger also has warming and drying properties, making it excellent for our climate here in the Pacific Northwest. It assists digestion and can lesson gastrointestinal upsets like gas or diarrhea. Try grating fresh or frozen ginger on baked apples or pears with cinnamon and nutmeg, or in smoothies, curries and soups. It is also wonderful chopped and added to stir-fries with lots of garlic. Ginger can shrivel quickly in the fridge; to extend the life of your ginger store in the freezer. This can also make is easier to grate.

Garlic

Ranking as one of the top anti-cancer foods, garlic also has potent antibacterial, anti-fungal and immune supportive properties. It is a staple in the kitchen and there are no limits to its use. Consuming raw, freshly crushed garlic will provide you with the highest medicinal benefits. Try chopping up a few cloves and adding it to dips or dressings like guacamole, salsa, or hummus. If cooking with garlic, be sure to chop or crush the bulbs and expose to air for a few minutes before adding to your dish. This will allow the molecules responsible for garlic’s anti-cancer effects to be released.  It’s also helpful to add chopped garlic at the end of cooking, rather than the beginning when it’s usually thrown in the pan.

No matter how you choose to use them, the range of health-promoting and flavor-enhancing properties of spices are endless. Experiment in the kitchen, have fun with foods and enhance your health with these warming and aromatic spices.

About the Author
Hillary Krupa, RNCP, Nutritionist, InspireHealth – Vancouver Island Victoria

As a holistic nutritionist, Hillary encourages healing and balance through the use of whole foods.  She has seen how foods in their purest, most unadulterated form can serve as practical, powerful and fundamental parts of healing.