Seven South Asian Spices That Deliver Health Benefits

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By Zannat Reza @food4happiness

 

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The next time you eat flavourful South Asian curries you may be getting a hidden benefit, the healing power of spices.  Spice up your life takes on a whole new meaning when you dig a little deeper into health research. Vibrant spices are sources of antioxidants and many have anti-inflammatory properties. Antioxidants protect your cells by cruising around your body zapping free radicals.  

Wondering about the difference between herbs and spices? Herbs are the green leafy parts of a plant, whereas spices refer to the seeds, berries, bark, or roots.

While there are numerous studies showing a relationship between spices and health benefits, I took a look at randomized clinical trials, which are the gold-standard of scientific research. I focused on human studies and not animal ones that sometimes make headlines. The evidence is stronger for some spices over others. Either way, continue to use them in your everyday cooking.

 

Cardamom

One clinical study found that just over ½ teaspoon of cardamom powder (3 grams) lowered blood pressure when taken for 12 weeks.

Cinnamon

 Taking 1 ½ teaspoons of ground cinnamon daily may lower blood sugar levels. While another study had success in lowering blood pressure with only ½ teaspoon of cinnamon used for 12 weeks. Clearly, more studies are needed.

Chili pepper 

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Capsaicin, the ingredient in chili peppers that gives its fiery heat, may help suppress appetite and burn more calories. It must be noted that although capsaicin capsules were used in these studies, a little hot pepper in your cooking will slow down how quickly you eat.

 Fenugreek

Fenugreek seed extract lowered how much fat was consumed by study participants over six weeks. In another study, taking ground fenugreek seeds (2 ½ tsp) soaked in hot water for six weeks lowered fasting blood sugar, triglycerides (a type of fat bad for heart health) and a certain type of blood cholesterol.

 Garlic

Some research suggests that eating half to one clove of garlic a day can lower cholesterol levels. A recent study showed that garlic pills lowered blood pressure. Also, people who ate garlic every day for three months had fewer colds.

Ginger

In addition to soothing sore throats, ginger is known to combat nausea. As well, its anti-inflammatory properties may help with arthritis.

Turmeric

Turmeric contains curcumin, which has been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Its anti-inflammatory properties are similar to ginger.

Nutrition Columnist
Nutrition Columnist

 

 While some studies use pills and extracts made from spices, I‘m a firm believer in eating whole foods, including spices. There are many compounds in foods that work together to produce a benefit. It’s difficult to replicate that in pill form.

 

Note: This article is for information purposes only. Please consult your doctor or health care provider before using spices for therapeutic purposes as there may be drug interactions.

 

Recipe: Spiced Raita

 

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This colourful version of raita is sure to be a hit at your next meal.

Ingredients

 2 cups plain yogurt

1 tablespoon sugar

 1/8 tsp cayenne

 1/8 tsp turmeric

½ cup grated cucumber

·                                                                                                                                                                                                                  ½ cup grated carrot

Directions

 

·       In a medium bowl, mix yogurt, sugar, cayenne and turmeric until smooth.

·       Add cucumber and carrot. Mix and serve.


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