It's the holiday season! Many of us spend many December hours in the kitchen preparing holiday favorites. As we cook, we add our favorite spices and herbs. Seasonings have been used since biblical times to develop the flavor of food. In fact, herbs and spices enhance the experience without extra calories, and may enable us to decrease the amounts of salt, fat, and sugar - without sacrificing flavor. Recent research, as well as long-standing traditions, shows that some herbs and spices may be good for our health. Here are just a few examples!Cinnamon is one of my favorite spices. It comes from the bark of tropical evergreen trees and is high in antioxidants. It's been shown to lower blood sugar, triglycerides, and cholesterol, and is used extensively to treat diabetes and high cholesterol. Traditionally, it is also used to treat toothaches, fight bad breath, and is used by many to prevent the common cold. Cinnamon is easy to include in the diet - try adding one or two teaspoons of ground cinnamon to oatmeal, yogurt, cereal, French toast, coffee or hot cocoa. Anise grows as an annual plant and tastes like licorice. It is commonly used with a wide variety of foods, from cakes and cookies to seafood and poultry. Anise can help relieve congestion from allergies, colds, and flu, has been used to treat digestive problems, and to help relieve menstrual cramps. Garlic may contain compounds that are protective against certain types of cancer - numerous studies are being conducted to see if it may destroy cancer cells and disrupt the metabolism of tumor cells. (Of course, it can also come in handy when fighting vampires...if you happen to run into any.) Garlic can be added to so many foods, including pasta dishes, vegetable dishes, pizza, tomato sauce, seafood, meat and poultry. Black pepper comes from the ground peppercorns (dried fruit) of a flowering vine. It is used as a seasoning worldwide. Recent scientific investigations indicate that the piperine in black pepper acts as an antioxidant and can be useful for pain relief. However, those with abdominal problems or who have ulcers should avoid it, since it can be irritating to the intestines. Also, those taking digoxin, dilantin, tegretol and theophylline (along with other drugs) should be aware that heavy use of pepper can alter the effectiveness of these common medications! Paprika, cayenne, and red chili peppers contains the antioxidant capsaicin, which acts as an anti-inflammatory and topical pain reliever. A recent study showed that blood pressure was lowered in laboratory animals. It has also been used for weight loss - it appears to boost fat-burning capacity. Ginger has been used by the military for years to treat motion sickness, and by pregnant women to combat morning sickness. It has long been valued to relieve arthritis pain and swelling. Ginger is used in bread batters, vinaigrettes, stir-fry dishes, on cooked carrots, and if you are my mother, in practically everything else! The highest level of antioxidants in all fresh herbs is likely found in oregano. Try generous quantities of fresh oregano in scrambled eggs, salad dressings, on top of pizza, in soups, and in marinara sauce. To get the maximum health benefit from these herbs and spices: *Use them while they are fresh. Time degrades the active ingredients. *Use double the amount of fresh herbs and spices as you would use if they were dried. *To get therapeutic levels of the herbs and spices, add them to foods throughout the day. Have fun cooking during this holiday season. Add spices generously for tastier and more healthful dishes! Dr. Alan Frischer is former chief of staff and former chief of medicine at Downey Regional Medical Center. Write to him in care of this newspaper at 8301 E. Florence Ave., Suite 100, Downey, CA 90240.
********** Published: December 13, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 35