Anti-Inflammatory Spices Owings Mills MD
By Nina Zolotow
What Denzel Washington is to bad guys, spices like cinnamon, turmeric, and cardamom are to inflammation: They can stop it dead in its tracks. Good thing, too, since chronic low levels of inflammation set the stage for a host of diseases, including arthritis, cancer, and heart disease. Medical researchers haven’t completely unraveled the causes of chronic low-level inflammation, but they’ve identified a number of culprits: excess weight, smoking, and diets high in processed foods, sugar, or saturated fats.
Anti-inflammatory spices, however, help fight this system-wide fire. Turmeric, for example, contains the powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compound curcumin, which studies have shown also slows the spread of breast and colon cancer cells and alleviates irritable bowel syndrome. Meanwhile, compounds in fennel and ginger block the action of an “inflammation trigger” molecule called NFkB, while cinnamon improves blood sugar, circulation, and cholesterol levels—as demonstrated most recently by research at the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center in Maryland. In light of this accumulating evidence, many doctors encourage patients to add these anti-inflammatory spices to their diets.
If you haven’t cooked much with these spices, though, incorporating them on a regular basis presents a challenge. You can’t simply scarf them straight from the rack (well, you could, but they would taste less than delicious). Additionally, certain spices might benefit you more than others. According to ayurvedic tradition, you gain the most health perks by eating spices suited specifically for your body type or dosha.
“Your dosha defines what’s in harmony with your nature and what will cause you to move out of balance and experience sickness and disease,” says Ram Rao, PhD, an ayurvedic physician and scientist at the Buck Institute for Age Research in Novato, California. Although all three doshas exist in each of us, the path to optimal health will vary depending on which one predominates: vata, pitta, or kapha. Because vatas tend to be thin and dry and often feel cold, they need warm and moist spices (such as fresh ginger and cardamom) to balance themselves. They also should avoid hot and dry or cooling spices, such as cayenne pepper or cooling coriander. Pittas, on the other hand, usually lead an intense life and are overly warm. They need cool spices (for instance, fennel and fresh coriander) to achieve balance, and they should avoid hot, pungent spices, like chiles and black pepper. These hot spices benefit kaphas, however, whose digestion tends to be weak and who often are cool, slow, and moist. Kaphas (lucky them) need not avoid any particular spices.
Seem complicated? Not to worry. You don’t have to cook complex Indian cuisine or prepare separate meals for everyone in the family. In India, people traditionally take their daily dose of spices by making chai (spiced tea with milk) matched to their dosha. Easy and delicious,...
Author: Nina Zolotow
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