Spice Up Your Life in the New Year
As we all head into this bright, shiny new year, many of you have probably started a New Year’s Resolution list, or even just thought about some ways to begin incorporating healthier habits into your routine.
Most of the time “EATING HEALTHIER” is in big, bold letters right at the top of our lists. And while all of us should make an effort to get more of those nutritious vegetables, fruits, and whole grains into our diet, there is another way to start eating healthier that you might not have crossed your mind.
Start cooking with more spices and herbs!
Increasing the herbs and spices in your diet will not only add some excitement and flavor to the healthier food you have resolved to cook, but can also add medicinal and nutritional value to your meals.
Herbal medicine had been used in many different cultures around the world for thousands of years for its medicinal properties. Unfortunately, the American cuisine does not often utilize herbs and spices in dishes and because of this, we understand very little of the health benefits they promote.
The term “herb” is technically defined as a plant without a woody stem, however, the term has also come to describe any plant or plant part that is used for medicinal purposes. Herbs are typically derived from the leaves and stems of the plant.
Spices, on the other hand, are any plant product that has aromatic properties or is used to flavor foods. Most spices are derived from the bark, fruit, seed or other parts of herbs, trees, and shrubs.
Although these are the technical definitions, many herbs can be used to flavor foods and most spices have medicinal properties, so the terms can often be interchangeable.
Fresh herbs will provide more flavor and health benefits than dried herbs, but if you’re in a pinch, dried herbs will work just as well. Dried herbs tend to be more concentrated than fresh herbs, so make sure you use less if you are substituting.
Here are the health benefits of some well-known spices and herbs you may already be using:
Basil, along with other members of the mint family, can be used as a digestive aid, a mild sedative, or for treatment of headaches. Basil can also provide important anti-cancer properties.
Cayenne and Paprika (a milder, sweeter version of cayenne), both have a high concentration of capsaicin. This compound is recognized as an effective digestive, pain reliever (a main ingredient in tiger balm and many arthritis creams), and an anti-ulcer aid (contrary to common belief, spicy foods do not cause ulcers, they can actually help heal them). For those of you who can’t handle too much heat, start off with small amounts at first and your tolerance will slowly increase as you begin to eat more.
Cinnamon, one of the oldest spices known, is frequently used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments. It has been used for arthritis, asthma, cancer, diarrhea, fever, heart problems, insomnia, menstrual problems, peptic ulcers, psoriasis, and spastic muscles. Cinnamon is also a warming spice (promoting a warm feeling and increasing circulation) so it is a great addition to your teas, stews, soups or oatmeal on those cold, blustery winter days.
Ginger, is best known for alleviating symptoms of gastrointestinal distress and inhibiting the formation of inflammatory compounds and other anti-inflammatory effects. For those with arthritis or other inflammatory diseases, consuming ginger everyday can reduce pain levels and increase mobility. Ginger, garlic and red pepper can all increase your basal metabolic rate leading to the burning of fat for energy. So, add some of these spices to your next high fat meal to help your body burn off some of the extra fat.
Garlic, although technically considered a root vegetable, is often used as a spice. Garlic can provide protection against heart disease and decreases LDL or “the bad” cholesterol while increasing HDL, or “the good” cholesterol. It can also help lower blood pressure. It has long been used in fighting infections from its antimicrobial properties. The next time you catch a cold, be sure to add a little extra garlic to your meals to boost your recovery.
These are just a few of the many wonderful spices and herbs available, all of which have their own remarkable health properties. If adding spices and herbs to your cooking seems overwhelming, start by finding recipes at first so that you can explore all of the flavors and discover what tastes best with certain foods. Pretty soon you will be improvising with a cabinet full of options!
Here’s a delicious recipe to get you started in spicing up your New Years!