Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Spice it up!

It turns out that a pinch of this and a dash of that not only boosts flavor in foods it can add a heap of health benefits to recipes, too. Nutrition research supports new reasons to season dishes with commonly used culinary herbs and spices including cinnamon, ginger, oregano, red pepper and yellow curry powder.

Blueberries, pomegranates and other deeply colored fruits may be famous for their high antioxidant content; but it turns out that some spices rank really high, too. One teaspoon of cinnamon has the disease fighting antioxidant power of a full cup of pomegranate juice or half cup of blueberries.

The specific kind of antioxidant compounds found in cinnamon called polyphenols have been shown to help regulate blood sugar levels and fight inflammation which can increase risk for heart disease and diabetes. Feel even better about the cinnamon sprinkled on your oatmeal? Just don’t use this spicy news to help justify downing one of those huge cinnamon buns at the mall. Controlling total fat and calories in your diet still reigns supreme as the most important rule in good nutrition. With that in mind, it’s interesting to note that spices might come to rescue there, too. Other studies suggest that some seasonings such as cayenne pepper, chili powder and paprika may help curb hunger pangs and boost the metabolism making it a bit easier to stick to a weight control diet.
Ginger has long been used as a natural remedy to sooth stomach upset. Now research focusing on one of its active ingredients called gingerol suggests it may work like anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Is your mouth burning from the wasabi served with sushi? Pick up that piece of fresh ginger on the plate.
Oregano has the highest antioxidant levels of the dried herbs because of its rosmarinic acid content. Used heavily in Mediterranean cuisines oregano has antimicrobial powers that can help fight bacterial growth and may help inhibit the bacteria associated with ulcers.
Red Peppers get their heat from a powerful antioxidant compound called capsaicin. Spicing up your meal may also help increase satiety so you eat less and other studies found red peppers even milder sweet red peppers boost your metabolism so you burn more calories.
Yellow curry powder is a blend of tumeric and other spices. Curcumin, the bright yellow pigment in tumeric helps fight heart disease and may boost brain health, possibly protecting against Alzheimer’s disease.

More Spice, Less Fat, Sugar and Salt.
Of course one of the best ways that spices can contribute to the enjoyment of a healthy diet is by taking the place of other seasonings that are high in fat, sugar or salt. Herbs and spices are classified as calorie free and salt free. At Spice Market restaurant in midtown Atlanta, executive chef Ian Winslade dips into a world of exciting and healthy spices used in the cooking of Southeast Asia to create dishes such as Steamed Red Snapper with Ginger, Scallion and Tarragon or Grilled Strip Steak with Garlic, Coriander and Sesame. Since each spice offers its own individual health benefits it’s a bonus to find so many used in Spice Market recipes and in the capable hands of Windslade they blend beautifully, “The dishes themselves are quite complex, using a multitude of ingredients in preparation. But when you taste the food, the nuances of all the different ingredients linger on the palate, creating a lot of memorable food.”

So the coriander in Southeast Asian foods, oregano in Greek dishes, cinnamon in the recipes of Morocco and tumeric in the curries of India and Thailand not only enhance the fragrance and flavor of foods, these seasonings are playing a small and potentially important role in the overall nutrition of your meals.

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