Spice Up Your Life and Your Health!

By Marie Veselsky, MS, RD, LD, BC-ADM

Licensed Registered Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator

spices

Spices have been used for centuries, not only to give food flavor, but also for their health benefits.  Generally, the leaf of a plant used in cooking is referred to as an herb, and any other part of the plant, often dried, as a spice.  National nutrition guidelines stress the importance of consuming a wide variety of food.  Herbs and spices naturally fit within such programs. So maybe it is time to “Spice up Your Life and Your Health!”

Here are a few common spices and their health benefits:

  • Rosemary neutralizes free radicals in the body.  This may give it anti-cancer fighting abilities.  Add it to chicken dishes.
  • Cinnamon has been found to help lower blood glucose and may help prevent heart disease.  A 2003 study found that about half a teaspoon each day lowered blood glucose, cholesterol and triglyceride levels.  It is also useful for improving the circulation and has anti-inflammatory and blood thinning properties.  Try adding a teaspoon to your coffee.
  • Curry Powder has been found to safeguard your brain.  The yellow curry pigment, curcumin, may fight Alzheimer’s by thwarting the development of plaques in the brain.   Add curry powder to mayonnaise to dress up sandwiches and try some new Indian dishes made with curry.
  • Garlic may improve your heart’s health. Studies suggest that an intake of between half and one clove per day can lower total cholesterol and triglyceride levels by an average of 10 percent.  One way to increase your garlic intake is to add minced garlic and chopped cucumber to plain yogurt for a light dip or salad dressing.
  • Chili Powder may help relieve achy joints.  Research shows that capsaicin, found in chili peppers, has an anti-inflammatory effect, which may ease arthritic swelling and pain. Add it to a batch of hot turkey chili.
  • Turmeric has been found to be anti-inflammatory and also is a slight blood thinner. Most disease states start with inflammation and Turmeric has been found to help with inflammation.

The safety of herbs (because they are a food) is very good, but if you take any medications, you should check with your doctor to make sure there are no potential food/drug interactions.  For an appointment with Marie call 603-770-4856 or 207-783-6800 in Maine.

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It’s Your Health and Your Choice! ™

Good News about Dark Chocolate

Dark Chocolate Consumption May Be Associated With a Lower Risk for Strokes

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Obviously, as a believer in eating “real food” (the caveman diet), I feel that good old fashioned dark chocolate is good for you in moderation. Research for some time has suggested that intake of dark chocolate may be associated with a lower risk for stroke and stroke-related mortality.

Results of 2 prospective cohort studies (http://www.aan.com) showed respectively, a 22% reduction in stroke risk for those who had 1 serving of chocolate per week and a 46% reduction in stroke mortality from weekly consumption of flavonoids in 50 g of chocolate vs no consumption. A third study showed no association between chocolate intake and stroke or death.

Chocolate contains cocoa butter, flavonoids, carbohydrates and vitamins.

Flavonoids are naturally-occurring compounds found in plant-based foods that offer certain health benefits. They are part of the polyphenol group (chemicals found in plants.) There are more than 4,000 flavonoid compounds, which are found in a wide variety of foods and beverages, such as cranberries, apples, peanuts, chocolate, onions, tea and red wine. They help protect plants by shielding them from environmental toxins and helping repair damage. When we consume plant-based foods rich in flavonoids, it appears that we also benefit from this “antioxidant” power.

Antioxidants are believed to help the body’s cells resist damage caused by free radicals that are formed by normal bodily processes such as breathing and from environmental contaminants like cigarette smoke. When the body lacks adequate levels of antioxidants, damage from free radicals occur and this leads to increases in LDL (bad cholesterol) oxidation. Oxidized LDL hurts the arteries by forming plaque on their walls.

Flavanols are the main type of flavonoid found in cocoa and chocolate. In addition to having antioxidant qualities, research indicates that flavanols have other positive influences on vascular health, such as lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the brain and heart, making blood platelets less sticky and able to clot and lowering cholesterol.

Obviously, the darker the chocolate the better, which naturally has more of the properties that are good for you and less of the added ingredients such as sugar. 70% or higher dark chocolate would appear to be the best.

To enjoy the benefits of dark chocolate without worrying about weight gain – take a dark chocolate candy bar and break it into about 5-6 pieces – enjoying one small piece each day.

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It’s Your Health and Your Choice! ™