Thursday, January 17, 2013

Zip Up Your Cooking and Travel the World with Spices

If you're feeling the chill this winter (or you're looking to make good on those "get healthy" New Year's resolutions), there's no better way to fill the kitchen with warmth than with the spice cabinet. Whether you're busting out curries, dolloping on wasabi or simply enjoying a mug of Chai tea, there are as many ways to enjoy the world of spices as there are flavours.

Believe it or not, spices and herbs are also packed with nutrients! Most are excellent for heart health, whether it's lowering your cholesterol, keeping blood clots at bay or simply making your heart beat a little bit faster. If high blood pressure is weighing heavily on you, the inflammation-fighting properties of mustard seed, ginger, turmeric, cloves, basil, sage and - surprisingly - cayenne pepper can help keep it under control. Digestive woes? Along with traditional peppermint and ginger, add some parsley, fennel, cumin, mustard seed, turmeric and black pepper to your menu. The bone-building vitamin K can be found in almost any herb, along with a boost of calcium and magnesium. Bumping up the heat level of your next pasta sauce with cayenne, black or jalapeno peppers also helps you detox by opening up your pores, making you sweat and increasing your breathing rate.

Berbere SpiceSome of the most potent cancer-fighting (and anti-aging!) antioxidants in the world. While no spice or herb is a substitute for medically supervised treatment, the antioxidant phytonutrients in almost all of them have shown to help reduce cancer risk and slow tumour growth. Some of the most potent herbs and spices everyone should start adding to their diet are cayenne pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, turmeric, rosemary and ginger.

One of the most popular flavours in the herb and spice world has to be cinnamon. Lucky for all us apple cider lovers, the bark of the Cinnamonum verum tree is also regarded as a blood sugar, triglyceride and cholesterol control aid, a powerful antioxidant and a "brain booster". In 2003, research found that a single gram of cinnamon lowered blood sugar, triglycerides, and both LDL "bad" and overall cholesterol (Diabetes Care, 2003).

There is no limit to the benefits of jazzing up your meals with herbs and spices - but keep them fresh and flavourful to reap the benefits! Ground, dried spices, seasoning blends and herbs get stale after about 2 years on the shelf, while whole pods (i.e. fennel, cardamom, whole chiles), barks and "nuts" (i.e. cinnamon, nutmeg) or "corns" (i.e. peppers, cloves) will last you an extra year or so. Buy in bulk from a store with a high turnover, so you can keep only what you need on hand, keep it fresh, and reduce waste. And, while you might be tempted to keep your containers right by the stove so that cooking is a breeze, spices in an airtight container away from heat, moisture and light stay at their peak a lot longer.

Need ideas for spicing up your kitchen? Take a look on blogs like What Smells So Good?. You'll find no lack of flavour and almost always healthy twists!

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About Me

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I started my "working life" as a holistic and allopathic nutritional consultant with a love of cooking. Teaching the value of wholesome meal choices to families became close to my heart after I battled a long history of struggles with weight and health, and the passion for teaching led me into where I am now. My blog, which focuses on "bringing good taste to healthier food" through creative use of whole grains, fresh produce and acknowledging the importance of the occasional treat, also features a wealth of "specialty diet" friendly recipes for gluten-, egg-, dairy- and sugar- tree nut-free items that everyone can enjoy without alienating those who need them.

Overall, I want to bring back the desire for good quality, homemade, (mostly) healthy food into the hearts and kitchens of families so that the next generation will be less box-reliant than mine. I firmly believe that any “homemade” food, even when labelled as "naughty", is a more wholesome treat than pre-packaged, cookie-cutter junk. With the knowledge of good food (and how to cook good food) as a base, a healthy lifestyle can follow, and then anything is possible!