Cooking with Spices: Ancient Knowledge for Health & Youth

by | Mar 21, 2021 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

It’s a bright Sunday morning at the market and the breeze invigorates your lungs with aromas from every corner. Over 200 years ago, you would have followed the scents of cinnamon, anise – hmm, is that clove? – down the crowded alley to the apothecary’s shop. 

The owner would have reminded you to eat fewer nightshades for your acid reflux, and suggested a sage tea to soothe your stomach and nerves. “Take this dried turmeric root, too. You don’t want your hands to gnarl like an old witch’s by the time you’re 40…”

Today, you can supercharge your body without traveling back in time or even outside your doorstep — 

It’s not a secret, but stand closer. You want to hear this. 

It’s one way people from different cultures have stayed young and beautiful well into their old age. 

Let’s start from the beginning…

Why Are Spices Healthy?

Nutrient Concentration in Spices

Spices do more than add dimensions of flavor to what would otherwise be a boring meal. They keep the change in your pocket while packing essential nutrients into your daily diet. A quarter teaspoon serving can increase the healthy compounds of your meals by 178% – even more for some varieties. 

A 2019 study on biomarkers of spice intake for humans (meaning a study based on objective medical signs), shows as an example:

Oregano has 935.3 mg of total phenolic content per 100 g of fresh weight in the fresh form, while in the dried form, it has 6367 mg/100 g. Similarly, high polyphenolic levels are seen in rosemary [1082.4 mg/100 g vs. 2518 mg/100 g].

More nutrients per serving! Great to know! Which nutrients exactly…?

Spices keep the change in your pocket while packing essential nutrients into your daily diet.

Vázquez-Fresno R, Rosana ARR, Sajed T, Onookome-Okome T, Wishart NA, Wishart DS. Herbs and Spices- Biomarkers of Intake Based on Human Intervention Studies – A Systematic Review. Genes Nutr. 2019 May 22;14:18. doi: 10.1186/s12263-019-0636-8. PMID: 31143299; PMCID: PMC6532192.

Phytochemicals in Spices

The main health punch in spices comes from the phytochemicals present in those innocent looking parsley leaves, the delicate rosemary, or the flaky dried onion. 

The phytochemicals and their health benefits are unique to each spice. The result? You can adapt their vast varieties to your own individual needs. 

You probably already know these naturally occurring compounds as “antioxidants.” They are not necessarily the same, but let’s talk about those in your pantry that guard your cells from damage.  

The antioxidants in spices help your body protect itself against the harmful ingredients and over-processing present in most food packaging. The ones that make your skin look dull and saggy, your hair brittle, your eyes perpetually tired…

Your diet may be contributing to those factors without you knowing it (say what?!). The good news is, it doesn’t take much to fight the harmful ingredients in your food – given you learn to reduce them.

The antioxidants in spices help your body protect itself against the harmful ingredients and over-processing present in most food packaging.

How Spices May Help Your Body

According to another 2019 study on the health benefits of spices — a sprinkle a day of spices has been proven to:

* Protect your digestive tract

* Balance blood pressure levels

* Improve glucose control

* Revamp insulin sensitivity

* Reduce inflammation

* Protect skin from UV damage

* Regulate hormones

* Encourage hair growth

* Fortify bones

…the list goes on and on, along with the years from the first known apothecary (his name was Jaber Ibn Hayyan, 721–815 AD. In case you were curious). 

Jiang TA. Health Benefits of Culinary Herbs and Spices. J AOAC Int. 2019 Mar 1;102(2):395-411. doi: 10.5740/jaoacint.18-0418. Epub 2019 Jan 16. PMID: 30651162.

Is the Spice Quantity Too Small to Benefit You?

As you gathered from the studies above, the medicinal effect of spices is substantial, even in small quantities. In fact, you only want to consume them in small quantities. Of course, you need to actually use them to see the benefits of cooking with spices regularly. A pinch here and there in your soups, stews, salads, roasted vegetables, and grains will add up as time goes by. 

The medicinal effect of spices is substantial, even in small quantities.

How to Use Spices to Supercharge Your Body

The best part about spices is that you can get creative with them. Here are a few suggestions to get the health benefits of seasoning your food:

  • Basil: Add depth to your marinara sauce, guaranteed to please any italian palate.

Main nutrients: Calcium, Potassium, Vitamin A, Phosphorus 

  • Fennel: You may have tasted this in sausages already, but honestly, it is much better in soup.

Main nutrients: Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, Vitamin A

  • Cayenne pepper: Drop a pinch of it in your morning smoothie. The berry flavors in particular will intensify, without setting your mouth on fire. 

Main nutrients: Folate, Vitamin K, Beta Carotenes, Vitamin A, Phosphorus

  • Paprika: Rub it on your favorite cut of beef or sprinkle lightly on cheese. 

Main nutrients: Magnesium, Potassium, Folate, Vitamin A, Beta Carotenes

  • Nutmeg: You will never make white sauces without it once you try it.

Main nutrients: Phosphorus, Magnesium, Folate

  • Cinnamon: Add a kick to your hot cocoa, pancakes, and morning oats. 

Main nutrients: Calcium, Vitamin A, Beta Carotenes

  • Sage: You may find that no stew is complete without some sage leaves. You can also try the Italian style of warming the dried leaves in melted butter, then pouring over spaghetti. 

Main nutrients: Calcium, Potassium, Folate, Vitamin A, Beta Carotenes

  • Rosemary: Rub it on chicken, pork, duck, or rabbit. Or use it to feel like a professional chef when serving rice to guests.  

Main nutrients: Calcium, Potassium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Folate

  • Thyme: Try this one on roasted eggplant or zucchini with some olive oil. Trust me. 

Beta Carotenes, Folate, Vitamin K

  • Turmeric: Throw generously on EVERYTHING. Smoothies, rice, soups, meat, and…of course, curry.  

Main nutrients: Calcium, Potassium, Manganese, Selenium, Folate, Vitamin C, Beta Carotenes, Vitamin A, Phosphorus

  • Ginger: Add an asian twist to your stir fries, roasted pumpkin, or steamed veggies recipes. 

Main nutrients: Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Selenium, Vitamin A

  • Black Pepper: Have you ever heard of a steak without black pepper? A sauce? It pairs perfectly with pineapple and kiwi, too. 

Main nutrients: Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Vitamin A, Beta Carotenes

These are only a few ideas for using spices in your kitchen. Have fun experimenting on your own!

Where to Buy Spices

Take a good look around your local market for seasonal varieties if you want to put the highest quality powders in your basket. If not, store-bought spices in your cart will do. You can even have them delivered from exotic lands straight to your door from online farmer/botanical stores. 

Not a regular cook?

No worries. You can experiment making your own tea blends with spices. Drink in all the benefits. 

Not a tea drinker either? Hmm…Spices go great in coffee, hot chocolate, orange juice, or smoothies.

If all else fails, sprinkle spices on popcorn. 

Spices go great in coffee, hot chocolate, orange juice, or smoothies.

Other Long Term Benefits of Spices

Notice the changes in your body after using spices for a while. Do you breathe easier at night? Does your hair grow thicker and shinier? Are your nails stronger than ever?

How about your energy levels? You can now take control over how energized you rise in the morning and how mellow you yawn at night.

Sprinkle, sprinkle. Sprinkle. 

Get carried away with the magic of spices.

Concoct for yourself the health and youth the apothecaries promised. The same ones who continue to pass their knowledge onto this century.

And now into your kitchen.

Disclaimer: This post does not intend to provide medical advice. If you have medical conditions, make sure to ask your doctor which spices are safe for you to consume.

We would love to hear about your favorite spices in the comments. How do you use spices for your daily health? What else do you use spices for? Share below! 

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