The Spice of Life by Glen Matten
Whilst there’s a major focus on the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables, and rightly so, don’t let that deflect attention from other components of our diet that are equally as good. None more so than culinary spices, which contain similar health enhancing plant compounds (aka phytonutrients) as fruits and vegetables but often in much more potent amounts, which means a little spice goes a long way to boosting health. With that in mind, here’s our go-to guide to common culinary spices that pack a serious health and flavour punch.
Turmeric boasts a long history of use in Asia for both its culinary and medicinal uses. Its use as a staple ingredient in traditional Indian cooking is thought to be one explanation for significantly lower cancer rates in India compared with Western countries. Amongst its numerous active ingredients, it is its curcumin content that is believed to explain many of turmeric’s health benefits, which in addition to anti-cancer properties, include anti-inflammatory effects, and even benefits for preventing weight gain and obesity.
Turmeric tip: Curcumin is poorly absorbed by the body, but there are ways to improve this. Using turmeric in cooking, especially with fat, helps improve its absorption, as does the addition of black pepper.
The heat in chilli comes from a substance called capsaicin, and the more capsaicin in a chilli, the hotter it is. And recent research suggests that spicing up our food with chilli could be a life saver, concluding that eating hot spicy foods three or more times a week is associated with a 14 per cent lower death rate compared to eating them less than once a week.
Chilli tip: As a general rule of thumb, the hotter the better – but don’t exceed what is comfortably tolerable
The health benefits of garlic have been revered for thousands of years. As well as natural antibiotic and antifungal properties, garlic boasts impressive benefits for cardiovascular health, with the potential to lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and reduce the stickiness of the blood. Additionally, research has indicated that regularly incorporating garlic into the diet is associated with protection against cancers affecting the gastrointestinal system, namely stomach cancer and colorectal cancer.
Garlic tip: For maximum health benefits, finely chop or crush garlic and allow it to sit for around 10 to 15 minutes on your chopping board before cooking with it. This triggers an enzyme which boosts the health-giving compounds in garlic and helps keep them stable during cooking.
Ginger has traditionally been revered for both its culinary and medicinal properties, and contains numerous bio-active plant compounds, such as the pungent gingerols and shogaols. It has a reputation for alleviating nausea, and is a traditional folk remedy for easing digestive problems. It’s also renowned for its anti-inflammatory properties, with recent research also pointing to potential cancer-protective properties too.
Ginger tip: Given its anti-inflammatory credentials, ginger makes a perfect partner with turmeric for a potent anti-inflammatory double act.
Taken from the Sirtfood Diet Recipe book by Aidan Goggins & Glen Matten
This inflammation buster is not a drink for the faint of heart!
3–5cm (10g) turmeric root, peeled
4–6 cm (25g) fresh ginger, peeled
½ medium (70g) apple, unpeeled
juice of ¼ lemon
pinch of black pepper
Juice the turmeric, ginger and apple.
You can peel the lemon and put it through the juicer as well, but we find it much easier simply to squeeze in the juice by hand.
Grind in a dash of black pepper and stir your juice.