The spicy route to enhance immunity and health

While many westerners still think of India as the land of elephants and snakes, many also think of it as the land of curry. Indian restaurants all over the world do roaring trade, with almost all westerners flocking there to eat ‘Indian’, at least once a week.

The reason for the success of our food worldwide can be attributed to our spices. Not only are they aromatic, they are very flavourful. These spices can even be found in supermarkets in far-flung lands like Sweden and Norway. You also get ready made ‘curry masalas’ which make it easy for westerners to cook Indian food.

The health benefits that arise out of using Indian herbs and spices are little known. Spices like jeera (cumin), haldi (turmeric), dhania (coriander) and even hing (asofetida), which form the backbone of Indian cooking, acquire another hue if we consider how they can help our health when used correctly. This is not just folklore as more and more serious researches validate this.

Researchers in the US have conducted studies to check if dhania can help in controlling cholesterol because it is a rich source of dietary fibre. In India, dhania is sometimes used for its anti-inflammatory action. It is also considered to be a rich source of iron, magnesium and even dietary fibre.

Studies have been conducted which suggest that Alzheimer’s disease can be slowed down by using haldi. Our humble jeera, along with rai (black mustard seeds), have both been found to be important in preventing cancer. Studies are being conducted to see if laung (clove) can aid in environmental pollutants detoxification. Results of latest research show that turmeric may also be useful in fighting abdominal fat because it inhibits the growth of fat cells. Kali mirchi (Black pepper) contains piperine, a chemical which, accordingly to research, has been shown to dramatically increase absorption of selenium, vitamin B and beta-carotene as well as other nutrients.

All those who cannot eat their meals with the accompaniment of chillies should rejoice, as studies show that chillies help with not only reducing congestion, but aid in pain relief, kill ulcer forming bacteria, help in weight loss and improve cardiovascular health, improve immunity, reduce blood cholesterol, triglyceride levels and platelet aggregation and prevent cancers, including stomach cancer.

According to Donna Tainter, a food technologist and author of Spices and Seasonings, A Food Technology Handbook, a study in the December 2003 Diabetes Care found that eating one to six grams of cinnamon daily significantly reduced blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. The study also concluded that cinnamon also reduced triglyceride, LDL and total cholesterol levels. Another study in the February 2004 Hormone Metabolism Research found that cinnamon seems to prevent insulin. A study in the Journal of Nutrition found that out of all spices, cinnamon is one of the richest sources of disease-fighting antioxidants.

Elaichi (cardamom) contains potent antioxidants, and is sometimes used in liver detoxification. It is also used to counteract ailments like acidity, nausea, flatulence, bloating, asthma, chronic bronchitis, anorexia, and even to treat gum, teeth, and throat infections. Garlic may be able to prevent high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels and cancer. Regular usage is said to enhance immunity and improve heart health.

We Indians have a natural resource with us to help us gain and keep good health. Use it wisely as health is the real wealth. Balance your spices well and you will see an improvement in your overall health.

Caution: This article is not to be taken as medical advise. Readers are advised to check with their doctors before trying any of the spices mentioned for medical conditions.

(The writer is a vegan chef and author of The Vegan Kitchen: Bollywood Style!)

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