Healthy food has an undeserved reputation for being bland and boring. This week, as part of our clean, lean programme, Nikki Edwards shows you how to spice up your dishes and tickle your taste buds without resorting to sugar and salt.
“Eating healthily is so boring” is something I hear a lot butactually, sticking to my clean, lean and protein programme does not mean you have to succumb to a list of dull, flavourless foods. On the contrary.
There are in fact, a whole host of delicious ways you can spice up your dishes – and by doing so you can also benefit from some surprising health bonuses.
Now I’m sure you’ve all heard of superfoods – those packed with great disease-fighting properties.
But I wonder how many of you knew that certain herbs and spices are also delicious sources of antioxidants and other powerful nutrients?
A pinch of history
Herbs and spices have been used to flavour our foods and for their health properties for nearly 5,000 years.
But before they became a way to help preserve foods when refrigeration was limited or nonexistent, these ingredients were seen as purely medicinal.
Nutmeg, for example, indigenous to the Banda Islands in the Moluccas (or Spice Islands) of Indonesia, became highly touted as a miracle cure for the plague, which killed more than 35,000 people in London in 1603.
And when they were first introduced to the UK, garlic was used as an antibiotic, Vanilla as a cure for impotence and cumin was believed to be the only way to prevent flatulence.
Is there any truth in it?
Technically speaking, herbs and spices are fruits and vegetables, which means that they are natural sources of concentrated antioxidants.
And there are several that researchers believe hold some of the greatest potential to improve our health.
Cinammon is a good example. A single teaspoon of cinnamon has the antioxidant power equal to 100g of blueberries or a cup of pomegranate juice.
It’s also a delicious way to spice up a cup of coffee or to sprinkle on breakfast oats.
Research has shown that cinnamon may also help regulate blood sugar, an important factor in conditions like diabetes.
Ginger is a well-known favourite of pregnant women because it helps prevent or reduce feelings of nausea and cloves also have magical qualities because theycontain eugenol, which helps reduce toxicity from pollutants and prevent joint inflammation.
Cuminis rich in antioxidants, which may help reduce the risk of cancer and also has iron and manganese which help keep your immune system strong and healthy.
And nutmeg is rich in calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamins A and C and can help reduce blood pressure.
Spice it up and live longer
Recent research into the properties of the chilli pepper has found that if you like your food hot, you may actually live longer than those who have a more mild palate.
The study quashed the long-standing myth that spicy food exacerbates ulcers and other stomach ailments and instead showed that hot peppers actually protect the stomach lining and may prevent the gastric damage associated with anti-inflammatory painkillers. They are also high in nutrients such as calcium plus vitamins A and C and may have some ability to prevent cancer.
Chilli is also a guilt-free way to make food more flavourful, interesting and exciting becausethey boost metabolism, help burn fat and keep us feeling full longer.
Today, chilli is an integral component of many traditional cuisines throughout Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. In fact it is the most common type of spice used worldwide, second only to salt as a seasoning.
Chilies and hot peppers can thank capsaicin, the main ingredient found within their veins (and the chemical that gives them their heat) for the health benefits that they exude.
Capsaicin has been scientifically proven to combat several common health issues, including high blood pressure, cholesterol, joint pain, depression, and digestion problems.
But chillies are not the only hotties that can improve your health.
Turmeric, the main ingredient in many spicy sauces and curries, contains curcumin which is thought to slow the progression of certain neurodegenerative diseases.
Recent studies also show that cultures that use hot peppers and spices in their diets have lower rates of cancer, heart attack, stroke, and pulmonary embolism.