Take your daily spice, along with your vitamins

August 23, 2011

By Jessica Kinghorn, Utah Climb4Life Event Coordinator

You know spices add flavor and depth to your meals, but did you know they offer a wild array of health benefits? In Healing Spices: How to Use 50 Everyday and Exotic Spices to Boost Health and Beat Disease, Dr. Bharat B. Aggarwal, PhD opens your eyes to the glorious world of using spices to fight disease.

You’ve been studying the effect of spice on disease for decades and also grew up in India, where spices are an integral part of every meal. What is your general philosophy on eating and health?
This is a very good question. Keep in mind that I’m a researcher so everything that I’m going to say is based on science. I’ve been doing this research for the last 40 years. What I’ve learned is very simple. Inflammation causes most chronic disease. So we need to control inflammation. Therefore, it’s important to try and lead an anti-inflammatory lifestyle. There are things in food that cause inflammation and there are things in the food that prevent inflammation. Let food be like medicine and vice versa.

I work for the biggest cancer center in the world. We see 2,000 cancer patients a day. Forty percent of all cancers can be taken care of with food. That in and of itself is food for thought. I’m very much into identifying things from the food that can control inflammation. With spices, it’s not only knowing about them, but how to use them.

To gain healthful benefits, how often must one cook with the spices you mention in your book?
Indian people, I’m Indian, we eat spices for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For instance, no Indian dish is without turmeric. All I can tell you is to incorporate it as much as possible. Turmeric has no flavor, nothing, just a color and [it’s inexpensive]. But the health benefits are plentiful.

What are some non-culinary uses for spices to boost your health?
[Spices can help cure or prevent] psoriasis, skin wrinkling . . . the list is very very very long. There are more than 200 products in Japan, mostly food items, for instance. In Okinawa the average life span is 94 years old and they are very into turmeric. Curcumin [the principal derivative of turmeric] is . . . the spice of life.

How are the healthful properties of spice best delivered to the body, and why are these methods so effective?
I talk based on scientific evidence. Curcumin, which my son calls it “Curecumin”, is a component of turmeric that we know the most about. Here we can talk with confidence that we have scientific evidence [that consuming curcumin is extremely effective.] There is a company called New Chapter, led by Tom Newmark and Paul Schulick, that sells turmeric capsules.  After extensive traveling within India, Tom concluded that Indian people are born with turmeric, live day to day with turmeric and the last thing they put in their mouth before dying is turmeric. There’s no toxicity. You can use it for anybody. There is a whole turmeric ceremony on a freshly born child. The benefits of this spice have been known for a long time. It did not come yesterday.

Do you have a favorite spice you like to use or recipe in the book?
Turmeric has to be that  one spice I have researched the most and everybody nicknames me after it. Although commonly referred in the Western World, there’s no such thing as curry powder. Curcumin, which I mentioned earlier, is what gives it it’s yellow color, and it’s also the most important anti-inflammatory agent. It is 100 times more effective than even aspirin, which was discovered almost a hundred years ago.  It was originally discovered as an analgesic.  Now curcumin has been approved by the FDA and is regarded as GRAS (generally regarded as safe). It is being used as a yellow coloring agent for foods like butter, mustard and cheese. Curcumin acts as an antioxidant and gives a beautiful color. It’s anti-diabetic, anti-obesity, anticancer, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, and cardioprotective.

What are some tips for the less adventurous eater who wants to start adding more spices to their cooking?
It’s very very easy. There are a lot of things [to do with spices]. Many people though have a mental block and we have to get over that. It’s as simple as putting a little oil on the stove and putting fresh spices in, experimenting and seeing how you like it. I give classes here [at the cancer center]. There are twenty-five million cancer survivors, 25 percent have a recurrence of their cancer, and they are looking for something to avoid cancer recurrence. I’m writing simple recipes and protocols for them to follow and incorporate into everyday life. It is all a matter of taste and you need to be willing to say that this is important for you. If it’s not important to you, you won’t do it.

Many people keep their spices around a long time, assuming it has a very long shelf-life. How do you know if your spice has lost its potency?
You can tell very easily whether spice is old or not old. They all have volatile oil, therefore they have a distinct flavor because of the oil. If the spice is old, they smell like grass. You can tell by just the smell of it. Different spices have a different amount of the oil [and will go bad at different rates], but generally, if it’s a year old, it’s no good. A lot of the time what happens is the oil sits around a long time and free radicals are generated, [so then the spice] becomes pro-inflammatory [instead of anti-inflammatory].

Here’s a tasty spice rub recipe to tempt the taste buds. More recipes, the history of spices and their healthful properties can be found in Dr. Aggarwal’s book online or at the Expanding Heart bookstore in Park City.

Cocoa Rub
1/4 C unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 C ground cumin
2 T paprika
2 T ground coriander
2 t chili powder
2 t coarsely ground black peppercorns
1 t sea salt
1 t ground allspice
Combine all the ingredients and keep in an airtight container out of heat and light.(Makes about 1 C)

Dr. Bharat B. Aggarwal, PhD is professor of cancer research, biochemistry, immunology and experimental therapeutics at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas and is director of the Cytokine Research Laboratory.

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