From obscure, chewy, bitter and overpriced berries being hyped up on the latest episode of “Dr. Oz,” to the extensive advertisements for yet another complicated diet plan that will eventually fail to produce long-term results, the prospect of achieving optimal health and wellness can seem daunting at the best, and impossible at the worst. The industry behind the supplements and diets has created an image of artificial scarcity that has made many jump to the erroneous conclusion that the simple act of eating healthy requires a doubling of one’s monthly expenses, but that simply isn’t the case. In fact, the secret to improving one’s health may already be waiting right under one’s nose.
Or, more precisely, inside the spice cabinet.
Believe it or not, spices have much more to offer than a mere flavor boost. Science often confirms what practitioners have suspected to be true for centuries, and such is the case with many spices that have seen extensive use in cooking and traditional medicine throughout history. Supplement companies are quick to jump on these studies, attempting to isolate one single extract that they can sell in pill form at a massive markup, but, as is often the case, nature packages nutrients as a whole for good reason.
As such, there will be no recommendations or requirements for expensive pills or exclusive brands here, just some of the world’s tastiest, healthiest and easiest ways to spice up one’s healthy lifestyle.
Turmeric has quickly become the “golden boy” (pun intended) of the health-conscious community, and for very good reason. If there were one herb or substance out there that could be said to do it all, it would be turmeric. The list of beneficial effects of this compound are practically too overwhelming to list within the framework of this article, but some of the primary perks are improved cholesterol profiles, reduced triglycerides, decreased rates of cancer, easing of pain and inflammation, greater blood flow, increased insulin sensitivity and possible even warding off fat gain through curcumin’s (the active ingredient within turmeric) actions at a cellular level.
One common issue with the beneficial compounds within turmeric, however, is their limited rate of absorption. Interestingly, it seems as though the cultures that have utilized turmeric extensively in their cooking throughout the centuries had it right all along, as both added fats (traditionally ghee, or clarified butter) and black pepper greatly enhance the absorption of these compounds. I would be hesitant to recommend loading up on the ghee, personally, but any healthy source of fat in the complementary meal will make for an effective, tasty dose of nature’s golden medicine.
Depending on your point of view, garlic can be seen as either one of the most delicious and essential components to any fine dish, or one of the most vile, foul-smelling plants that has ever dared to defile a perfectly good batch of pasta sauce. No matter your personal feelings on the matter, however, the many health benefits associated with consistent garlic consumption are irrefutable.
Allicin, one of the primary active compounds found within raw garlic, works similarly to aspirin in many of its mechanisms. This includes the prevention of blood platelets from clumping together and forming clots (a property often given the misnomer of “blood thinning,” even though the actual viscosity of the blood is unaffected) that, in turn, lowers your risk of stroke.
There is far more to garlic than one single active ingredient, however, and the synergistic formula of all natural forms of garlic have demonstrated the ability to regulate blood pressure, boost immunity and reduce both cholesterol along with triglycerides. All of these factors are linked with tremendous improvements in cardiovascular health and well being, so plug up those nostrils and eat up!
While cinnamon has long been heralded across the world for both its sweet, complementary flavors when paired with desserts and breakfast cereals, this particular spice is finally gaining some much-deserved recognition from the scientific community regarding its ability to regulate blood glucose levels.
This is actually a discovery that may have been made by accident, as researchers were baffled when they found a lower glycemic response to breakfast cereals sweetened with cinnamon, but their discoveries have paved the way for an effective, pleasurable and natural way to combat the blood sugar spikes that run rampant throughout the average American’s daily diet.
These anti-diabetic effects aren’t just something along the lines of a single point reduction in blood glucose, either. As it turns out, this delectable spice has the potential to lower fasting blood glucose levels by up to 24 percent in healthy subjects, which is huge, because most studies focus specifically on those already struggling with diabetes or metabolic syndrome, which doesn’t always translate to the average college student.
In addition, cinnamon has been shown to decrease the rates of gastric emptying (keeping food in the stomach for a longer period of time), increase satiety, reduce cholesterol and of course, provide antioxidant defenses to protect against those nasty free radicals just as much as it is protecting against the sugar in that spiced latte.
While some may already be familiar with ginger’s often-touted ability to reduce feelings of nausea, there’s so much more to this warming spice than use as a folk-remedy for upset stomach. True, that is one of the primary benefits correctly associated with this plant, as it has been demonstrated to increase stomach motility while combatting nausea effectively in those undergoing chemo therapy, but ginger’s remarkable ability to ease discomfort extends beyond the stomach, as ginger has been effectively as a natural anti-inflammatory to combat conditions such as arthritis for centuries. Much like its close cousin, turmeric, ginger also carries the benefit of improved cholesterol profiles and triglycerides.
Oh, and for the men out there, it’s worth noting that preliminary human evidence points towards significant increases in testosterone. Ginger is hardly the first thing that one would think of when it comes to muscle builders or testosterone boosters, and more research is needed to confirm such results, but if nothing else, it’s worth trying for the other health benefits alone.
It’s no breaking news at this point that there are many reported health benefits associated with the consumption of dark chocolate, including, but not limited to, better cardiovascular health and decreased amounts of inflammation, but there are glaring issues with the hasty recommendation for everyone to eat their fill of dark chocolate, with the sky-high amount of calories being the most obvious.
A much better option for those not wishing to spend a conservative four hundred calories on a piece of chocolate would be to go straight to the source—cocoa powder. This concentrated, unsweetened source of cocoa provides the benefits of increased blood flow, decreased inflammation and enhanced insulin sensitivity, all without the unneeded calories, and with plenty of the vitamins and minerals in a concentrated form.
Mix it with hot water or milk and a calorie-free sweetener for guiltless hot chocolate, or mix it with your coffee, and find pleasure in the fact that nature has provided us with such tasty ways to improve health and wellness!