Herbs not only add extra flavor to meals, but they also deliver a wide range of impressive health benefits that will take your dietary health to the next level. Herbs provide an array of phytochemicals that positively affect our health and protect us from a variety of diseases.
Including fresh and dried herbs in drinks and sweet and savory dishes is a simple, cheap and delicious way to support good health.
Three super herbs that you should be adding to meals regularly are ginger, turmeric and cinnamon. Here are some creative ways to incorporate them into your daily diet to reap their many health benefits.
This Face the Current Health Feature is published in Issue 24 / July-August 2019 Edition. Order PRINT here, SUBSCRIBE to digital membership for unlimited access to our content, or continue reading this article below.
GINGER (Zingiber officinale)
Ginger is one of the most popular cooking spices used throughout the world. Chinese herbalists have been using ginger for thousands of years for its healing powers, to treat colds and flu and digestive complaints. Ginger is a well-known remedy for nausea, especially morning and sea sickness, and it helps ease digestive complaints like excess wind and bloating.
Ginger is a great addition to winter meals to enhance the body’s ability to fight off respiratory infections. Gingerol, the main active compound in ginger, is responsible for much of ginger’s immune enhancing benefits. Ginger has the ability to boost the immune system by activating T-cells (white blood cells) and through its anti-bacterial action. Drinking ginger tea is an excellent way to soothe a sore and inflamed throat. Try adding a teaspoon of Manuka honey and a couple of slices of lemon for an extra anti-bacterial boost.
Gingerol also has powerful anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-cancerous properties. Ginger is highly effective at relieving inflammation and pain associated with arthritis. Eating a wholesome diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods like ginger is of upmost importance for preventing inflammation in the body, and for reducing the risk of chronic disease and promoting longevity.
Ginger helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, while raising beneficial HDLs (‘good’ cholesterol). (1) Ginger also has the ability to reduce platelet stickiness, which helps improve circulation and reduces the risk of heart attacks and thrombotic strokes. Ginger’s ability to stimulate circulation makes it an ideal herb for anyone suffering from cold hands and feet.
HOW TO SPICE UP YOUR MEALS WITH GINGER:
Add freshly grated or ground ginger to soups (pumpkin and carrot, miso), stir-fries, curries, dahl, noodle dishes, and Thai chicken meatballs. Add ginger to salad dressings, satay sauces and marinades (with soy sauce or tamari, garlic, ginger and sesame oil) for chicken, pork, tofu, beef and salmon. Pickled ginger is delicious served with nori rolls, sushi, Asian salads, noodles, and fish. Fresh ginger is an essential ingredient in Asian dishes, including Indian cuisine.
Stewed or poached fruit (berries, pears, apples, stone fruits) or rhubarb with freshly squeezed orange juice and grated ginger. Homemade chia berry jam or applesauce with ginger is great to have with toast, pancakes and waffles.
Add a slice of fresh ginger to vegetable juices and hot and iced teas. Ginger works well in green smoothies or paired with mango, kiwi and pineapple. Add powdered ginger to turmeric lattes (coconut milk, powdered turmeric, ginger, pinch pepper), hot chocolate, coffee or masala chai.
Add powdered or freshly grated ginger to desserts, crumbles, and healthy baked goods (ginger cookies, ginger bread, carrot cake). Ginger pairs well with banana, apple and apricot so add some to banana bread, apple pies, cakes and muffins.
COMBINES WELL WITH
Cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, paprika, and saffron.
TURMERIC (Curcuma longa)
Turmeric has long been a much loved staple in Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine. This super spice, which is the main ingredient in curry, possesses many wonderful health benefits. Turmeric contains a potent antioxidant called curcumin that has been studied extensively for its ability to fight damaging free radicals in the body and for its powerful anti-inflammatory effect. Free radicals are one of the main culprits when it comes to the development of chronic diseases and premature ageing. Turmeric helps protect against cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease and is beneficial for alleviating inflammation and pain associated with arthritis.
Studies have also shown that turmeric can enhance brain function. Researchers have found a link between improved cognitive performance and the consumption of turmeric. A study indicated a lower prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and better cognitive performance in Indian people who consumed curcumin in curry on a regular basis. (2,3) Turmeric also has a protective effect on the brain. Curcumin protects brain cells from free radical damage, which can help prevent neurodegeneration. (4)
Consuming turmeric regularly will also help support liver and immune health. (5)
BEST WAYS TO USE TURMERIC IN MEALS
Enjoy turmeric lattes (coconut milk, ginger and a pinch of pepper). Turmeric works well with coconut milk. Add a fresh slice of turmeric to ginger tea and veggie juices.
Add ground turmeric to rice, cauliflower rice and quinoa, curries, lentil dahl, soups, vegetable patties, salad dressings and sauces, scrambled tofu or eggs, and frittatas. Oven roasted turmeric cauliflower. Grate raw turmeric through vegetables.
Adding a pinch of black pepper with turmeric will significantly improve turmeric’s absorption.
Add ground turmeric to cakes, cookies, raw desserts and protein balls.
COMBINES WELL WITH
Ginger, cardamom, cumin, black pepper, coriander, garlic, cinnamon, curry leaf, galangal, lemongrass, mustard seeds, paprika, fennel, fenugreek and chili.
CINNAMON (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
Cinnamon is a spice that has been used for thousands of years around the globe for its medicinal properties and delicious sweet taste. There are two types of cinnamon, Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum), which is called true or real cinnamon, and Cassia cinnamon. True cinnamon is more expensive and has a sweeter flavor and scent compared to cheaper more robust tasting cassia. Ground true cinnamon is often finer and their quills are rolled in the one direction.
Cinnamon has been found to be extremely beneficial for keeping blood sugar levels balanced and for improving insulin efficiency. Cinnamon makes a great alternative to sugar and other sweeteners for diabetics. Adding just 1 tsp of cinnamon to a meal can slow the rate the stomach empties by around 37%, which significantly slows the rise in blood sugar levels. Even less than half a teaspoon daily can reduce blood sugar levels in people with type-2-diabetes. (6)
Including cinnamon in the diet can also notably reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease in people with type-2-diabetes. A study showed that consuming between 1 and 6 grams (around 1/3 – 2 teaspoons) of cinnamon daily may lower triglycerides levels by 23-30% and total cholesterol by 12-26%. (7)
Cinnamon is a great source of glutathione, which is one of the body’s major antioxidants needed for good health and prevention of chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease, and premature aging. Glutathione is required for maintaining a healthy immune function and it helps protects us from environmental toxins. Cinnamon also contains anti-inflammatory compounds that can help prevent chronic inflammation that plays a major role in the development of various neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. (8)
Cinnamon has been used traditionally in Ayurvedic medicine to support the immune system. It has anti-microbial properties that can help fight off colds and flu, and prevent the growth of candida, bacteria and fungus infections.
Cinnamon is a useful remedy for digestive complaints like excess wind, diarrhea and nausea.
Cinnamon is also useful for enhancing circulation. Cassia cinnamon contains high levels of coumarin, which is a compound that has a blood thinning effect. People taking blood thinners like warfarin should limit their intake of cassia cinnamon for this reason.
BEST WAYS TO USE CINNAMON
Stir 1 tsp of cinnamon powder in warm almond milk with a little raw honey. Cinnamon is a main ingredient in masala chai. Spice up your next hot chocolate with some cinnamon. Add ½ tsp of cinnamon to your coffee before brewing, or use it to sweeten up your next smoothie.
Spice up your morning oatmeal, Bircher muesli or chia puddings with a teaspoon of cinnamon. Make your own healthy granola sprinkled with cinnamon. Add a stick of cinnamon when poaching pears. Berries pair well with cinnamon.
Add a good spoonful of cinnamon to healthy baked goods, pancakes, waffles, granola bars and fruit crumbles.
Homemade ice cream (coconut milk, honey, cinnamon, banana and toasted almonds). Add cinnamon to rice puddings, raw desserts and protein balls. Cinnamon works well with cacao in healthy chocolate desserts.
Oven-baked sweet potato, carrots or pumpkin sprinkled with cinnamon. Add cinnamon to soup (pumpkin), stews, chili and lentil dahl. Cinnamon works well with lamb and chicken. Cinnamon is an Indian staple in many rice and curry dishes.
COMBINES WELL WITH
Cumin, nutmeg, ginger, turmeric, coriander, cardamom, cloves, tamarind and anise.
Broaden your cooking repertoire and have some fun in the kitchen experimenting with new recipes using these outstanding herbs. Including ginger, turmeric and cinnamon regularly in your diet is an excellent way to make meals more flavorsome while boosting your health and reducing the risk of disease.
1. Alizadeh-Navaei R, et al. Investigation of the effect of ginger on the lipid levels. A double blind controlled clinical trial. Saudi Med J. 2008 Sep;29(9):1280-4.
- Shaji S, Bose S, Verghese A. Prevalence of dementia in an urban population in Kerala, India. Br J Psychiatry. 2005 Feb; 186:136-40.
- Ng TP, Chiam PC, Lee T. Curry consumption and cognitive function in the elderly. Am J Epidemiol. 2006 Nov 1;164(9):898-906.
- Gary W. Small et al. Memory and Brain Amyloid and Tau Effects of a Bioavailable Form of Curcumin in Non-Demented Adults: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled 18-Month Trial. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. Vol 26, Issue 3, March 2018, Pages 266-277.
- Jagetia GC, Aggarwal BB. “Spicing up” of the immune system by curcumin. J Clin Immunol. 2007 Jan;27(1):19-35. Epub 2007 Jan 9.
- Paul A Davis, Wallace Yokoyama. Cinnamon intake lowers fasting blood glucose: meta-analysis. J Med Food. 2011 Sep ;14(9):884-9. Epub 2011 Apr 11.
- Alam Khan, MS, PHD et al. Cinnamon Improves Glucose and Lipids of People With Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care 2003 Dec; 26(12): 3215-3218.
- Ramaswamy Kannappan et al. Neuroprotection by spice-derived nutraceuticals: you are what you eat! Mol Neurobiol. 2011 Oct; 44(2):142-59. Epub 2011 Mar 1.