Sunday, January 9, 2011

Top 5 Foods to Add to Your Diet in 2011! Part 3 of 5.

spices: (Turkey, travel, Istanbul, spice marke...Image via Wikipedia
Spice it Up!
Variety is the spice of life, but what if spice was the key to living a healthy life.  While spices and herbs may be best known for adding delicious flavour to food and creating unique cultural dishes, did you know that many of them harbour amazing nutritional benefits?

The terms herbs and spices are relatively straight forward.  Both are plant materials used primarily as flavouring.  Herbs come from the green part of the plant (parsley, cilantro, rosemary) while spices are generally seeds, bark and underground stems (pepper, cinnamon, ginger).

While most herbs and spices contain medicinal qualities, I am choosing to highlight those that you may pass by in the grocery store!

Turmeric
This heads up the list with its broad spectrum of nutritional benefits, making it the number 1 spice to add to your diet. It is a radiant yellow colour, primarily used in South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine.
  • Strong anti-oxidant capacity, quelling free radical damage throughout the body.
  • Supports liver health and detoxification.
  • Strengthens and improves digestion.
  • Purifies the blood.
  • Inhibits tumor initiation and growth.
  • Anti-inflammatory (arthritis, skin conditions, heart disease, allergies, asthma, pain).
  • Prevents the oxidation of cholesterol.
Add turmeric powder to egg salad, vegetable raita, curries and stews.

Cinnamon
Sweet and spicy, cinnamon has been used for thousands of years for both its medicinal benefits and intoxicating aroma.
  • Helps to regulate blood sugar.
  • Relieves congestion.
  • Powerful anti-microbial that kills bacteria including E coli.
  • Helps prevent urinary tract infections, tooth decay and gum disease.
  • Digestive aid for gas, bloating and indigestion.
Add cinnamon to plain yogurt, stews, curries and hot chocolate.  Mix a tsp of cinnamon and honey to warm water to help relieve symptoms of a cold.

Cilantro
The leaves of the plant are most often referred to as cilantro, while the seeds of the plant are more commonly called coriander. While both parts have benefits, I am talking primarily about the green leaves and stems of the plant.
  • Anti-bacterial and anti-viral.
  • Assists in the productions of digestive enzymes.
  • May be an effective chelator of heavy metals and other toxins.
Make a pesto using cilantro instead of basil, add to salsa, steamed veggies and stir- fry dishes.

Other herbs and spices I love with great health benefits include garlic, ginger, oregano, rosemary and cayenne pepper!

Getting the most out of your herbs
  • If you're buying a herb or spice specifically for its health benefits, always choose organic.
  • Buy dried spices in small quantities, the longer they sit around the less potent they become.
  • Add your leafy green herbs at the end of cooking so they retain their flavour and benefits (parsley, cilantro, dill etc).  Hardier herbs may be added at the beginning to draw out their oils (Rosemary, thyme, oregano)
  • Store in an air tight container, in a cool dry place.
Vegetable Raita
2 cups plain yogurt
1/2 cup each chopped cucumber, tomato and red onion
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Juice of 1 lime
1 Tbsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp sea salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and let rest for 15 minutes.  Enjoy on its own (I can eat it by the bowl) or as a side dish with vegetables and meat.
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