For centuries, spices have been used in so many ways to achieve different purposes all around the world. Even at a point in the history of the world, spices were used as legal tender for products and services. Throughout history, spices have had a strong influence on our perception of the qualities of food in our world today. But the crux of the matter is that spices do more than evoking the natural flavours of the foods in which they are used. They affect our health positively too. It is no surprise that they have been used for their medicinal properties for ages. Here is why spices have a positive effect on your health.
Spices contain several chemicals which give them their characteristics. Each spice has its own set of chemical compounds which enable it to impart the desirable flavour and aroma to foods as well as provide unique health benefits to its consumers. Some of these chemicals are essential oils without which spices will not be spices. In this article, some of the other chemicals in some spices; like capsaicin (found in hot peppers), curcumin (found in turmeric), allicin (found in garlic and onions) and other compounds which have medicinal properties and could improve the health of the consumers of the spices in which they are found are discussed.
An Indian proverb says “every good quality is contained in ginger”. The medicinal properties of this spice can prove every bit of this proverb. Scientific evidence shows that ginger possesses the ability to cleanse the liver, hence, prevent toxic substances from building up in the liver. This same spice is able to prevent or reduce fever. Further studies have proven ginger to contain potent antioxidants which are able to reduce risks for cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Some of the chemicals found in ginger are effective against cough, parasites, infections and some allergies. Tradtionally, in China, the roots of ginger are used to treat alopecia (absence of hair from areas of the body where it normally grows), cold, nausea, stomach ache, tooth ache, cholera and diarrhoea.
Garlic and Onion
Garlic and onion contain an antimicrobial compound (a compound that inhibits the growth of microorganisms like bacteria) and this compound could reduce ulcers. This compound in both garlic and onions has been found to have a possible cholesterol-lowering effect on blood cholesterol levels. Onion has been shown to be effective in the treatment of coughs. Garlic, also known as white onion in some cultures, has been proven to be an effective fungicide. Recent studies have also shown that this spice is able to improve digestion, enhance memory, decrease blood pressure and prevent cancer as well as heart diseases. So eating garlic and onions isn’t bad after all in spite of their strong scents.
What makes this particular spice hot is a chemical called capsaicin. Studies have shown that this chemical plays a very significant role in blood clotting. It modulates blood clotting thereby ensuring you don’t lose blood when you’re cut or ensuring your blood doesn’t clot while flowing through your blood vessels in order to prevent blockage of the blood vessels which could be fatal. Some studies suggest that some varieties of hot peppers are potent inhibitors of the growth of some microorganisms, therefore, could prevent infections. Recently, some scientists have stated that a combination of capsaicin and some fats could be the panacea for cancers but further studies need to be done to confirm this hypothesis.
A study which involved the use of animals, it was observed that myristicin (a chemical in nutmeg) increased the ability of the enzymes which ensure toxic substances are removed from the body of the animals. Though myristicin is not a major component of nutmeg, some studies suggest very high doses of nutmeg could cause hallucinations and distortion of vision. Nevertheless, Asians use nutmeg to treat nausea, diarrhea and kidney ailments.
Curry powder is a mixture of spices often for special applications and to suit the preferences of the people. It may contain ginger, turmeric (which gives curry powder its yellow colour), coriander, cumin and black or white pepper. There are several blends of curry powder. But whatever the blend, the medicinal chemicals in each of the spices used is retained providing the consumer all the benefits of the spices used in the blend. Turmeric, a principal component of curry powder blends, contains curcumin (a phytochemical) which acts an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory agent; reducing blood clot formation and possibly inhibiting enzymes which activate carcinogens (substances that can cause cancer).
You could include some of these spices in your food to enjoy some more health benefits. There are several other spices I couldn’t mention in this post each of which has its special health benefit. Feel free to share your comments about those in this article and those I couldn’t mention.