Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Spice of Life

Over the past 8 or so years since I really started to cook for myself and enjoy it, I have experimented alot with spices. I have learned that you can make a really ordinary dish amazing by adding different herbs and spices to the recipe. I was never really interested in the "healing" or medicinal effects of herbs and spices until recently. In my quest to find information for my cancer prevention diet, I have come to appreciate certain herbs and spices.

#1 on my list is Turmeric.
Turmeric is a spice that has been a huge part of Indian cooking for thousands of years. It is actually the principle spice that makes up curry. Don't be scared of it! Even if you do not like curry, as many people do not, there is still plenty that you can do with this spice to fit it into your recipes. But first a few of turmeric's benefits to boast about:
  • anti-carcinogenic- curcumin can inhibit tumor initiation, promotion, invasion, angiogenesis and metastasis
  • anti-allergy
  • anti-inflammatory- helps to reduce irritation to tissues characterized by pain, redness, swelling and heat
  • natural antibiotic
  • anti-oxidant
  • helps aid in digestion
  • maintains & improves intestinal flora
  • purifies the blood
  • reduces gas and bloating
  • assists in the digestion of protein and with rice and bean dishes
  • improves your body's ability to digest fats
  • promotes proper metabolism, correcting both excesses and deficiencies
  • improves elimination of wastes and toxins
  • turmeric helps increase bile flow making it a liver cleanser that can rejuvenate your liver cells and recharge their capability to break down toxins
  • helps to prevent alcohol and other toxins from being converted into compounds that may be harmful to your liver
  • supports formation of healthy tissue
  • stimulates formation of new blood tissue
  • contains curcuminoids that fight cancer, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s by counteracting the damage effects of free radicals in the body
    • relieves arthritis pain and stiffness, anti-inflammatory agent
    • supports treatment of Alzheimer’s disease: because Alzheimer's disease is caused in part by amyloid-induced inflammation, curcumin has been shown to be effective against Alzheimer's. Clinical trials are in progress at UCLA with curcumin for Alzheimer's.

A bit of information about how turmeric works to kill cancer cells. I get daily emails from Dr. Mercola, who has dedicated his practice to natural health, and the one that came today had an article in it about turmeric and it's anti-cancer properties. 

"Curcumin – a derivative of turmeric, and the pigment that gives the curry spice turmeric its yellow-orange color -- is a natural compound that has been extensively researched, and has been found to have numerous health applications. The ancient Chinese and Indian systems of medicine have recognized curcumin's beneficial properties for thousands of years. Most notably, curcumin is known for its potent anti-inflammatory properties, and as you may know, chronic inflammation is an underlying factor in many, if not most, chronic diseases. In India where turmeric is widely used, the prevalence of four common U.S. cancers -- colon, breast, prostate and lung -- is 10 times lower. In fact, prostate cancer, which is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in U.S. men, is rare in India and this is attributed, in part, to turmeric."

Numerous studies have looked into this potential cancer-fighting link, with promising results. For instance, curcumin has been found to:
  • Inhibit the proliferation of tumor cells
  • Inhibit the transformation of cells from normal to tumor
  • Help your body destroy mutated cancer cells so they cannot spread throughout your body
  • Decrease inflammation
  • Enhance liver function
  • Inhibit the synthesis of a protein thought to be instrumental in tumor formation
  • Prevent the development of additional blood supply necessary for cancer cell growth

I have found a few ways to fit it into my diet without eating curry all the time. I do like curry, but I find that it is just too much sometimes. Also, really important to remember is that our bodies have a hard time absorbing turmeric unless it is accompanied by black pepper. Additionally, the healing effects are multiplied when paired with yellow onions (also a cancer prevention food!). 

Fish- I sprinkle it on fish like salmon along with paprika, sea salt, black pepper, garlic (chopped or powder), chili powder, and cayenne pepper (if I want something spicy). Bake and done!

Chili- When I make a pot of chili (which is a staple for me in the wintertime) I add in turmeric. This is an easy way to get in quite a large amount of turmeric and I find that it complements the taste of the chili rather well. Remember to always add black pepper with turmeric. You can also chop up some yellow onions and sprinkle them on top just before you eat (if you like raw onions. I DO!). If you stay away from chili because it gives you monster gas, try adding in some cumin- it aids in digestion and reduces the effects of gas from beans. So you can eat more of them! because they are really good for you!
  • 1 can black beans (1/2 cup dry)
  • 1 can kidney beans (1/2 cup dry)
  • 1 can chili or pinto beans (1/2 cup dry)
  • 3 large tomatoes,diced 
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 corn cobs, kernels cut off
  • 1 Vidalia or sweet onion, diced
  • chili powder
  • sea salt
  • black pepper
  • paprika
  • turmeric
  • cumin
  • red pepper flakes (be careful with these, only a pinch will produce alot of spice)
  • water to desired consistency (ingredients will release water as they cook down so I would wait until about 30 minutes in to add)
Directions: put all ingredients (except spices) above in large pot. Turn to medium heat and let simmer for 1 hour. About half way through add in spices starting with chili powder (I add in quite a bit), and the rest to taste. If you are new to the kitchen, I would suggest starting with small doses until you find what works for your taste buds. I don't ever use actual measurements for spices because I find that it comes out better if you add a little bit, stir, and taste, rather than 1 tsp. of this and 1 tbsp. of that.

Coconut Curry Sauce- This is my own recipe and it is a mild way to do curry. 
  • organic coconut milk
  • raw coconut flakes
  • pineapple chunks
  • Vidalia or sweet onion, diced
  • curry powder w/ some extra turmeric
  • black pepper
  • sea salt
  • paprika
  • nutmeg
Directions: put ingredients into saute pan, turn to medium heat. Mix in spices as desired. This goes wonderfully with shrimp, scallops, white fish, or just some quinoa and vegetables. I find that yellow squash, green beans, asparagus, or snap peas go wonderfully with this sauce.

Hummus- such a versatile dip!
  • 1 can chick peas
  • 1 heaping tbsp tahini
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 jalapeno pepper (if you want it spicy)
  • olive oil
  • sea salt
  • black pepper
  • turmeric
  • paprika
Mix all ingredients in a Cuisinart or blender. Add olive oil as blending to desired consistency (smoothness). Pair with carrots, celery, crackers, or use over whole wheat pasta instead of sauce.

So there you have it...4 interesting ways to incorporate turmeric into your diet. And you will be getting all of the purifying, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant benefits that this unpopular spice has to offer!

Original Sources: Super Spice SecretsCurcumin May Help Prevent Some Types of Cancer, Stop Your Cravings by Jennifer Workman, The Hundred Year Lie by Randall Fitzgerald

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