I am passionate about this topic because herbs & spices have such incredible health benefits that we generally miss out on because we don’t necessarily think of spices as food when it comes to nutrition. Am I right?
So my ambition is to change that by sharing evidence of how powerful they are! I for one, am in awe of their health benefits!
Here is a list of spices and herbs I use on a daily basis:
Spices – Turmeric, cumin, cayenne, coriander, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, Fennel, anise, ajwain, saffron (I just started using it on March 1st)
Herbs – Cilantro, parsley, oregano, basil
What’s the Big Deal about Spices??
Aren’t they just for adding flavour you might ask? Yes and no. Yes, they definitely add flavour but they’ve also been used in Indian and Chinese medicine for thousands of years.
The West is just beginning to catch up, relatively speaking. In fact, scientists are now discovering that herbs and spices are loaded with antioxidants. But here’s the clincher…
Herbs & spices have the most antioxidant power of any food category on the planet!
The potency is quite mind blowing! Because just a teaspoon or pinch can significantly increase the nutritional value of your meal.
You can check it for yourself. Here is the link for the PDF document with the database of numerous foods ranked by their antioxidant score, which was complied by a team of scientists that spanned the globe testing and ranking these foods.
Do you know what this study concluded? It concluded that plant foods contain on average 64X more antioxidants than animal foods!
Before I talk about spices, let’s talk about Antioxidants.
- What are they?
- Where do we get them from?
- Why are they important?
- How do they work?
WHAT are they?
They are micro-nutrients like vitamins A, C, E and hundreds of compounds:
- Like flavenols & polyphenols (dark chocolate)
- Resveratrol (red wine)
- Lycopene (tomatoes)
- Cartenoids that give produce its rich colour
We need to eat a wide range of these nutrients in order to keep in good health.
WHERE do we get them.
- From fresh organic vegetables (especially the dark leafy greens)
- Fruits, Nuts, Tea, Coffee, and of course…
- Herbs and Spices
Our body also produces some of them, but this decreases as we age.
So when choosing foods remember this:
Intense Colour and intense Flavour equals intense benefits for your health!
WHY are they Important? Because you need them to fight the Free Radicals that are responsible for making you sick and making your body age!! (Imagine this image of little terrorists running around destroying your healthy cells!)
Here is a quote from Dr. Earl Stadtman, who is a well known biochemist. He claims that aging is a disease:
The human lifespan simply reflects the level of free radical damage that accumulates in the body’s cells. When enough damage accumulates, cells can’t survive anymore, they just give up.
What is free radical damage you might ask?
Free radical damage is a natural biological response to toxins, stress and inflammation in your body. (It can be environmental, food related, drugs, chemicals and so on.)
Free radicals cause damage at a cellular level. This destruction is called oxidation – which leads to tissue damage, illness, even organ damage. In other words…we are slowly rusting!!
That’s why Antioxidants are so so important! They protect us from this free radical damage. They are our defense against rusting!
HOW do Antioxidants work?
They work by fighting against the oxidation process. They go to war against free radicals.
In so doing, they protect our cells from oxidative destruction! They give us the ability to fight disease by strengthening our immune system, our vital organs and so on.
So back to spices… But I needed to take you on this sidebar to emphasize the importance of antioxidants to our health and well being, before getting into how powerful spices are in relation to other foods (oz/oz) in terms of their nutritional potency.
I am going to repeat what I said earlier… Herbs and spices are the richest source of antioxidants of all of the foods on this planet! So having said that, let me get back to their health benefits.
I am sure you’ve all heard about the many health benefits of turmeric. It’s the subject of many clinical studies for it’s anti-inflammatory and other properties. But let’s save turmeric for next week – I will also share my personal story about using turmeric.
For more depth on the uses and health benefits of many different spices, you can download my free ebook by going to globalvegetarian.ca/ebook
For today’s discussion, I am going to focus on Saffron.
Saffron is the most expensive food on the planet! It is the king of spice!
1 gram container costs about $5. That equates to $5K per kg or approx. $2300/lb!!
- Saffron comes from the stigma of the crocus flower
- It has to be hand picked during a very short flowering season
- Each flower produces only about 3 strands
- It takes 150 flowers to get 1 gram of dry saffron
- You get the picture, right? But a little goes a long ways.
- For example, $5 worth will last 10 days or so = 1 latte!
- Don’t buy powdered saffron – it can be cut with turmeric or paprika, or both!
Saffron is used as a flavouring base for rice dishes, drinks, desserts, and broths. Just a pinch in a cup of hot water can be used to replace an equal amount of liquid in a recipe.
Couldn’t you go for some saffron rice pilaf or Spanish paella right now?! I know I could. But culinary uses aside, let’s talk about its health benefits because that is really what I want to share with you.
Saffron is a health tonic for your:
Body – because it is very rich in antioxidants (potency of colour/flavour)
Mood – It has been clinically proven to be an antidepressant
Brain – It fights Alzheimer’s disease
Because it contains several chemical compounds known to have disease preventing properties.
Remedy for Depression
Clinical trials have put it head to head with Prozac, a leading antidepressant drug. The conclusion was that saffron worked equally as well as the drug, but without the side effects! 20% of the people in the Prozac group suffered side effects. Unfortunately, this is one of those rare cases where the natural remedy is more expensive than the drug!!
Another study found that even just smelling saffron appeared to have psychological benefits. The researchers noted a significant drop in stress hormones in women who sniffed the diluted saffron for 20 minutes compared with the placebo group. Hmmm now there’s an idea! Keep a saffron snuff box nearby to reduce anxiety!!
Remedy for Alzheimer’s
Here’s something that completely blew my mind! In a 16 week study, Alzheimer’s patients with mild to moderate dementia who took saffron capsules showed significantly better cognitive function than a group of patients who took a placebo.
Another 22 week double blind study found that saffron was just as effective in treating Alzheimer’s symptoms as the leading drug (donepezil). Once again, without the adverse side effects of the drug.
Keep in mind that there is no proven way to cure Alzheimer’s. But perhaps spices like saffron and turmeric used as part of a healthy diet can at best prevent or at worst help cope with the symptoms of this terrible disease.
But of course drug companies don’t want you to learn such things.
All of this clinical information I’ve shared with you…you can find in the book How Not To Die by Dr. Michael Greger. It is scientific and invaluable in my opinion.
If you want to learn more about spices, their uses and health benefits, get my free ebook Our Spice Guide To Your Indian Cooking.
I’ve been having some challenges with severe SAD this winter (Seasonal Affective Disorder). That’s why, after learning about the mood support benefits of Saffron, I decided to start using it everyday to give it a try. It can’t hurt! I figure it can only help.
Here is a simple recipe for my Saffron Smoothie:
1 cup hot water with a pinch of saffron (let sit for at least 10 minutes or longer)
1 cup almond milk
2 large handfuls of organic greens, fresh or frozen (spinach, kale, chard, etc)
1 orange, peeled
1 frozen banana (or fresh if no frozen on hand)
1 fistful of walnuts
1 scoop plant based protein powder
Add everything in that order into your blender and blend until smooth.