Spices & Ηerbs

Spices

Cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, saffron… Spices are not only used as food additives for flavor and color but they are also proved to be extremely good for our health.

A spice is a dried seed (coriander, anise), fruit (fennel, mustard), root (turmeric), bark (cinnamon) or flower bud (cloves) that in cooking is distinguished from herbs, which are leafy, green plant parts, used also for flavor and decoration.

Valuable substances of spices

Anticancer properties

The National Cancer Institute estimates that roughly one-third of all cancer deaths may be diet related. What you eat can hurt you, but it can also help you. Spices such as cumin, cloves, mustard seed and saffron are attributed significant antimicrobial and anticancer properties.

Antimicrobial functions of spices

Cinnamon, cumin, mustard seeds, coriander, nutmeg, cardamom and of all kinds of pepper of course are some of the spices with the stronger antimicrobial and antiseptic action.

Rich in antioxidants

Research in Norway and Japan proves a high concentration of antioxidants in spices such us cloves, allspice and cinnamon. They even suggest that the use of those spices in cooking maybe a source of antioxidants comparable to vegetables and fruits!

Digestive

Incorporating spices in cooking has many benefits for our health, directly from spices and also indirectly, because they prevent us from using extra salt and fat. Also, despite the widespread perception to the contrary, many spices such as cumin, anise and fennel facilitate digestion. On the other hand some others like curry, can irritate the stomach when consumed without moderation.

What do researches have to say for:

Cinnamon

There are a lot of interesting researches done on the antidiabetic action  of cinnamon. Has yet to be clarified whether they are right and whether this specific spice is useful in treating this disease.

Turmeric

The health benefits of turmeric lie in the active ingredient called curcumin. This powerful compound gives turmeric its therapeutic benefits, its yellow color, and its pungent flavor. More specifically, curcumin harbors antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, stomach-soothing, and liver-and heart-protecting effects.

Turmeric is thought to reduce inflammation by lowering histamine levels and it may also stimulate the adrenal glands to increase production of a hormone that reduces inflammation. It is often used to ease joint pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. However, it is also used to reduce joint pain and in inflammation in other disorders as well.

Turmeric (curcumin) also harbors rich stores of antioxidants. Antioxidants are disease-fighting substances that mop up the continuous onslaught of free radicals. Free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules that damage cells as they travel through the body and are responsible for premature aging and diseases such as cancer if left unchecked. In fact, Naturopaths often recommend turmeric for situations in which high concentrations of antioxidants are required.

Laboratory studies indicate that curcumin has anti-cancer activity. More specifically, it destroys some types of cancer cells. For example, in the laboratory, curcumin kills cultures of human leukemia cells. This action may be due to turmeric's antioxidant properties or some other anti-cancer activity. Needless to say, more research is needed to determine turmeric benefits as a potential cancer agent.

Black Pepper

The medicinal benefits of black pepper reach beyond its taste and flavoring of your foods.  Research studies have shown that black pepper actually has healthful properties.  Of all of the benefits of this spice, it is its ability to enhance the function of the digestive tract that makes it a good reason to put it in the dishes you cook.

Another benefit of black pepper is its ability to diminish the amount of gas in the intestinal tract.  This leads to less flatulence and bloating and is believed to be another benefit of increasing hydrochloric acid in the stomach.

For those who understand the benefits of antioxidants, you'll be glad to learn that black pepper is known to have a great amount of antioxidant properties.  It also has benefits against bacterial growth, particularly in the intestinal tract.  The good news is that all you need to do is put a little bit in your food every day.

Nutmeg

Like other herbs and spices, the assumed health benefits of nutmeg have been many and varied, but substantially unproven. Historically, nutmeg has been used for everything from stomach cramps to a cure for the plague. Even so, there is evidence that nutmeg does have health benefits. Studies show that it can help lower blood pressure and sooth a stomach ache as well as stop diarrhea and (in low doses) help to detoxify the body. Nutmeg is known to have anti-inflammatory properties and can be used to treat joint and muscle pain.

While there are many health benefits of nutmeg, be careful not to take it in high doses. It can be toxic and can cause serious problems. Never consume more than 30 grams (around 6 tablespoons) in a day, and even this amount would be considered excessive.

Curry

Curry, or curry powder is actually a mixture of any number of spices, one main spice in most curry powders is turmeric. Among the health benefits of curry is that of reducing inflammation of the joints. In fact, recent research shows that turmeric helped to prevent the swelling of joints in rats that had arthritis. And it’s not only arthritis that it may be helpful for. Other studies suggest that this powerful spice may also help protect us against cancer, heart disease and even Alzheimer’s disease.

But these health benefits are no surprise to those trained in Ayurvedic medicine (India) where turmeric has been used for treating inflammatory disease for centuries.

Vanilla

Vanilla is more than just a way to make things taste and smell good – it could actually improve health. The active compound in vanilla is vanillin. Vanillin is a polyphenol with strong antioxidant activity. Some neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease are associated with formation of a chemical called peroxynitrite, which causes damage to brain cells. Because vanillin has such strong antioxidant activity, it may offset some of this oxidative damage – keeping brain cells healthy and preventing the devastating effect of diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Suffron

Crocetin, an important carotenoid constituent of saffron, has shown significant potential as an anti-tumor agent in animal models and cell culture systems. Saffron, crocins, and crocetin inhibit breast cancer cell proliferation. It is also considered to be stimulant, sedative and aphrodisiac!

Cumin

Like most spices, cumin contains a very high concentration of antioxidant compounds that provide numerous health benefits. Cumin health benefits have been used to promote well-being and treat various diseases and disorders for thousands of years.

Cumin helps to enhance immunity. It increases your metabolism and improves the absorption of nutrients throughout your body. Cumin health benefits are extremely helpful in preventing and treating digestive disorders and other related problems.

Cloves

Although all spices are good sources of antioxidants, cloves rank as the richest source of antioxidants known. The all-around health benefits of cloves have been well known for centuries. Cloves have an impressive number of medicinal uses.

Allspice

The active principles in the allspice found to have anti-inflammatory, rubefacient (warming and soothing), carminative and anti-flatulent properties.

Just a little bit is enough

All of the above do not mean that you have to increase the consumption and use of spices more than the recipes indicate. Since the excess can have adverse effects such as digestive discomfort or even a toxic affect! Do not also forget that some of spices’ properties are still under study and consideration and they cannot be a substitute for medication by your doctor!

Special thanks to both Kostalenia Kallanioti and Vicky Pirogianni, clinical nutritionists/ dietitians.