Archive | November, 2013

Seven Super Spices-Yay for Healing Power!

24 Nov

Spices are fantastic.  They have been used for medicinal healing for centuries.  Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine said “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”.  Wise words and great advice, even today.  Sometimes a flavor boost with spices is just what the doctor ordered.

Since we are having a ball with spices, let’s keep adding them.  They have too many benefits to ignore.  It’s time to put them front and center in our culinary adventures.  We have covered cumin, cinnamon, and oregano.  The fourth super spice to inspire better health is… ginger!

Ginger, for some reason, illicits a strong response.  Either people love ginger or they hate it.  It is not a wishy washy flavor; it is pretty distinct and bold.   If you love it, keep eating it!  If you hate it, it is time to try it again, maybe in a way that is more mild.  Here are some reasons to love ginger:

According to The National Institiute of Health (NIH) ginger is used throughout the world to treat a host of maladies, including:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Flatulence (a delicate and genteel name for bloating and farts)
  • A sore throat
  • Bronchitis
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Arthritis

Not only that, but ginger is great for:

  • Treating chronic inflammation
  • Making healing tea
  • Destroying certain viruses
  • Combating morning sickness in pregnancy and nausea from chemotherapy
  • Settling an uneasy tummy
  • Healing the gut
  • Easing cold symptoms, and by some accounts even shortening one.

Ginger is great to cook with, and compliments a variety of dishes.  While ginger is typically used in sweet dishes here in the United States, in other countries such as India and Pakistan it is used in preparation of vegetables, and many lentil dishes.  In Japan, it is used usually raw, on noodles.

Ginger can be used in powdered form, pickled, and fresh.  Fresh ginger is in the produce section of the grocery store, and can be used sliced or grated.  It is a root, so if fresh, peel it before use.  Fresh ginger needs to be stored in the fridge, and can even be frozen. Powdered ginger should be stored in a dark cool cupboard.   Get it in small quantities so it is always fresh.

Ginger can be grated to use in sauces or sliced to use in tea.  It is a wonderful addition to many soup recipes.   It is delicious added to fish, chicken, pork, or tofu.  Ginger can be combined with other flavors such as scallions, apples, honey, mango, cumin, and coconut.  The internet has a zillion recipes using ginger, or start with the ones I have below.  The possibilities are endless and exciting!

Ginger Tea:

Add four slices of fresh ginger to 2 cups of boiling water and continue boiling for 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and strain.  Discard ginger.   Add 1-2 teaspoons honey to the tea and enjoy!  Simple, warming, and soothing!

Ginger Fruit Salsa:

  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon mild vinegar, such as apple cider or rice vinegar
  • 2-3 tablespoons white wine
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
  • 3 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions
  • 1 tangy apple, peeled, cored and diced
  • 1 medium mango, peeled and diced

Heat olive oil in sauce pan.  Saute ginger and scallions for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.   Add vinegar and wine.  Stir.  Simmer for 4-5 minutes.  Add sugar, apple and mango.  Let cook down for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Serve over chicken, fish, or tofu.

Seven super spices-Let’s keep going!

18 Nov

So far we have covered 2 super spices.  Let’s take a break from discussing the savory brown spices of cumin and cinnamon and move on to a spice that boasts other fabulous benefits.  We go to the  green…and the third super spice is oregano!  Yum!

Not only has oregano been used in culinary circles for ages, it has been used as an herb with medicinal properties for thousands of years.  Surprise!  It actually belongs to the mint family.   In addition to its flavorful pop to so many dishes, it is great for the body too!

First and foremost, oregano is very high in dietary antioxidants.  Antioxidants are beneficial for our bodies because they boost the immune system, help promote healthy cells, and defend against free radicals.  Free radicals attack the cells in our bodies every chance they get.  It is oxygen based damage to the cell structure, so we need to protection.   Antioxidants are a good defense from free radicals.   Each antioxidant has different beneficial qualities, so getting them from different dietary sources is beneficial not only to our cells but our immune system as well.

Oregano also has been found to have anti-bacterial properties.  Oregano oil is touted as a germ killer.  Some studies have shown that a few drops of oregano oil can actually cut down on infections in the house hold.  Compelling studies worth mentioning!

Oregano is a rich source of vitamin K.  This is valuable to bone growth and bone density.  And here is a surprise…oregano is also rich in fiber.  We tend to not consider spices when thinking of fiber, but it is time to change that thinking!

Oregano, like most spices, is best fresh.  When storing fresh oregano, it should be wrapped and stored in the fridge.  Dried oregano should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container.  Try to keep not only this, but all dried spices in a cool dark part of your kitchen, like a cabinet away from the heat of the oven.  Buy it in small amounts because spices should not be in your cabinet longer than 6 months.

Oregano is typically associated with greek and italian cooking, but its great with most anything.    Try making a dry rub with oregano, parsley, basil, thyme and rosemary.  Pat on dry chicken or pork prior to cooking for a nice flavorful dish.  Add it to tomato sauces too.  Lots of folks sprinkle oregano on their pizza.  Put a dusting of it on your fish.  Toss some into soup.  Add it to an omelet.  There are so many ways to enjoy oregano!

Spices are typically nutrient dense and calorie free. They are cholesterol free.  Why not dig in and start changing your recipes to include more spices!  It’s time to boost your immune system and add flavor to everyday dishes!  Start having fun with spices and you are on your way to better health!

Seven Super Spices…next!

13 Nov

Okay.  We covered the first super healthy spice.  Cumin.  Have you had fun with it?  I hope so because I am having a blast with it.  As promised, we are on to the next super healthy spice.  We will stay with the brown spices and go to…cinnamon!

Cinnamon has been a show stealer lately, and become very much in vogue with news outlets touting it’s benefits.  Lets break it down and take a look here.  Cinnamon has a very long history, actually dating back to early Egypt.  Cinnamon has been used to treat maladies of all kinds for centuries.  Great news…not only does it greatly please our olfactory senses (our nose), it really is a super spice!

The health benefits making cinnamon one of the seven super spices include:

  • According to studies, cinnamon is good for the digestive tract and aids digestion.  It is good for IBS as well as a simple tummy ache.  Infuse some tea with cinnamon and relax!
  • Cinnamon is high in manganese.  What does that mean?   Manganese is great for bone health, and may help prevent osteoporosis.
  •  Cinnamon is loaded with antioxidant properties.  Antioxidants are good for healthy cell reproduction and benefits the entire body!  Antioxidants not only prevent cell damage, it can repair cell damage as well.
  • Cinnamon has been shown to reduce arthritis pain.  Added bonus:  It has been proven to help menstrual pain too!  It can reduce pain by acting as an anti-inflammatory.

I do not recommend eating cinnamon by itself or adding it to cold drinks.  It may be harsh tasting and not palatable.  For health benefits, try adding it to baked dishes or hot beverages.  Add it to tea, coffee,  hot oatmeal, or to pancake batter.  Sometimes I sprinkle cinnamon on my coffee grounds prior to brewing.  It not only smells great, it tastes fantastic!  As with anything though, moderation is key for optimal benefits.  1 teaspoon of cinnamon a day is a great start!

Store your cinnamon tightly in a glass jar.  Keep the jar in a cool dark place.  Storing cinnamon in the kitchen is fine but make sure not to store it above the stove!  Put it in a cabinet far from any heat source.  Also, buy it in small amounts so it is sure to always be fresh!  It should not be in your kitchen for more than 6 months.  Boost your health benefits and start adding cinnamon as part of your daily nutrition today!

P.S.  Cinnamon has a potential naughty side…some folks consider it an aphrodisiac.  It can warm the body and lead to a boost in sex drive.  Consider yourself warned!

Seven Super Spices

11 Nov

Spices are used to enhance the flavors of the food we cook.  But there is an added bonus!  Did you know that spices are packed with healthy antioxidants?  Spices, even in small amounts, can pack a good healthy punch in your daily diet.  How?

Antioxidants prevent oxidation.  How is that helpful to our bodies?  Oxidation harms our cells, and antioxidants protect our cells from the damage oxidation can cause.  That is why we hear so much about antioxidants today.  Where are antioxidants found and how can we incorporate them into our diet?  There are many ways.  Using spices is a good place to jump start your cells to better health!

Antioxidants in spices are super concentrated.  What are the best spices to focus on?  We will start with one at a time.  Let’s talk about cumin.  It is prized for medicinal healing.  But we will focus on what the studies have shown to make cumin medically beneficial.

  • Studies have shown cumin to help reduce glucose levels naturally in diabetics, increasing glucose sensitivity.
  • Cumin has been a proven bronchiodilator, beneficial for asthmatics.
  • It is packed with antioxidant properties.
  • Cumin contains iron and manganese, great for the immune system.
  • Cumin has been shown to benefit the digestive system by stimulating pancreatic enzymes.
  • Studies have indicated that cumin seeds may also have anti-carcinogenic properties.

Cumin seeds physically resemble caraway seeds.  Both the cumin seeds and the powder can be found in the grocery store.  The seeds are fresher, and can be toasted and easily crushed to use in any recipe.  But use which ever is best for you.

Cumin is generally associated with Mexican and Spanish foods.  It is also widely used in Mediterranean cooking.  You can throw it into your tacos, chili, or enchiladas.  Add cumin to black beans and rice.  Give your cauliflower a healthy punch by sprinkling it with cumin.  It doesn’t matter how you use it…just start!  You will quickly be in your way to better health!  And the next of the seven super spices is…

Starting line

5 Nov

Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start” – Nido Qubein

Some days my spirit feels a little dark.  Everyone has them.  Days when you feel that there is a bulls eye on your forehead, and the hits just keep on coming.  Those days stink.  Luckily, they are few and far between for me, because I just don’t let myself wallow in that kind of junk for long.  Neither should you.

Sure it’s easy to get stuck on the negative. In fact, in some circles I think it is not only acceptable, but popular.  Just think of some teen age girls sitting around talking about how “fat” they are, maybe even calling themselves ugly.    Unfortunately, that is a proven phenomenon with teenage girls.  It is popular in this circle to degrade ones self.  Sad but true.

Every one has crummy days.  Every one has stress.  And it can steal our wellness, our health, and our happiness, if we let it.  Stress has been proven to manifest in the brain and our immune system.  Stress can literally make us sick.  Since we can’t eliminate stress alltogether, it is important to learn how to manage it.

It takes a conscious effort to get out of the adrenaline loading stress triggers in life.  Stress can beat a person down.  It is bad for overall well being.  So reset the clock on stress.  And unlike that popular dieting start date, you don’t have to wait for Monday morning to do it.  Here are a few things that work for me.

Breathing.  This is simple, but I am a breath holder when I get stressed.  I literally have to tell myself to breath.  When I get stressed, I stop and focus on breathing.  Where ever I am, whether it is in the elevator at work, driving in traffic, or cooking dinner, I will take a moment to breath.  I breath in for a count of 4, and out for a count of 7.  You can feel muscles relax when you breath in this manner. And I will do it several times in a row till I feel a good problem releasing exhale.

Take a walk.  Increasing activity triggers your body to release endorphins. These endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain.  Endorphins also create a positive feeling in the body.  Who wouldn’t want to experience that?  Get out of your head for a few minutes and just focus on your body.

Face your problems or obstacles head on!  One of the quotes I have posted around me, and I have many, is “Stand up to your obstacles and do something about them.  You will find they haven’t half the strength you think they have“. – Norman Vincent Peale

This quote runs through my mind often.  At times, I can be guilty of turning a problem over in my head and giving it more importance than it really has.  A conscious effort needs to occur to stop that stress increasing cycle.  And it is like anything.  The more you practice it, the easier it becomes.  So I practice this often.  Don’t let something grow larger than it is…face it fast.   In other words, just nip it in the bud and move on.

Eat well.  Healthy food not only helps you feel great, but boosts the immune system as well.  Shore up your immunity so that when stress hits, there is some reserve power in it.  And if you blow it, have a little amnesia, forget about it, and grab something healthy to eat.  Do not fall into that trap of “waiting for Monday to begin again” with healthy eating habits.  Get back on track fast.

Pray or meditate.  This is a biggie for me.  I am a woman of strong faith, and I am lucky enough to be able to share my faith with many of my friends.  Pray or meditate until it rests in your heart.  That is how behavior can change.  Live it.  Actions speak faith more than words do, so believe in something. Really believe, really live it.  This is a game changer.  It can reduce stress by empowerment!

I should add sleep to this recipe for stress relief, but I would be a hypocrite if I did.  After all, these are actions that help me.  Unfortunately, I am not a great sleeper.  I think I live with that deficit in my life automatically.   Oh sure, I can fall asleep at a decent time, but I am a night time waker/worrier.  Then I start arguing with myself about the dumb things I am worried about.  After all, most things we worry about never happen, but I get caught in this loop at 3 a.m.  Hey, what can I say?  We all have things that we need to work on.

Don’t wait until Monday to start reducing stress levels, or to do anything positive in your life.  Every minute of every day is a new starting line.  Crummy things happen, we all have bad days.  How quickly we turn them around is the key!