Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spice Up Your Metabolism And Your Taste Buds

As part of spring we tend to crave lighter foods, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we crave lighter tastes. A great way to have your cake and eat it too, while shedding that winter weight is to add in fantastic flavors to your meals.
Spices and herbs will help to keep even the simplest of meals exciting and tasty. I can have chicken every day and feel like I have eaten something new each time, just by the different herbs and spices I play with. It is also a great way to maximize nutrient density in your diet. Herbs and spices contain antioxidants, minerals and many vitamins.

Now I’m not just talking about adding in salt and pepper; those are commonplace in the spice world. * You can eliminate Salt. When you flavor your foods with spices instead of salt you’ll immediately see health and physical benefits. I’m going to introduce you to a variety of flavors that will entice you in more ways than just their taste. These herbs and spices have been used in cooking for medicinal purposes in many cultures throughout history. Their nutritional content can be quite impressive as well. One teaspoon of ground ginger has as many antioxidants as a cup of spinach, and a teaspoon of thyme has as many antioxidants as a carrot or half a cup of chopped tomatoes! There is on-going research into the ability of herbs and spices to boost metabolism and aid in weight control. They have a thermogenic effect, meaning your body begins to burn up more calories while digesting the spices. If you’ve ever eaten very spicy food then you know the feeling when your body begins to feel hot, possibly even leading up to a sweat. This is your body’s way of cooling down the fire created by all those spices. All the while your metabolism is revved up and hard at work during this process.
Although weight loss is not 100% proven as a result of increasing herb and spice intake, I can tell you one thing for sure; it definitely helps to promote a feeling of satisfaction and satiety with your meals. Herbs and spices pack little to no calories, meaning you can have all the wonderful fulfilling flavors on your food, without amplifying your waist line. Here’s a list of herbs and spices that aid digestion, which can be extremely helpful as winter comes to an end and we need to detox our system from the heavier foods that were consumed on those chilly days.

Allspice, anise, cardamom, cloves, dill, ginger, marjoram, oregano, peppermint, and tarragon (known to relieve gas)

Get Creative and start experimenting, you won’t be disappointed. You can purchase almost all of these spices at your regular grocery store, and the great thing is that they will last you forever. I like to keep my spice rack in clear site of my cooking space, so I can always play and try new combinations.

Black pepper may be common, but it's a standout when it comes to health benefits. It improves digestion by increasing the stomach's secretion of hydrochloric acid. It helps prevent the formation of intestinal gas and helps stimulate the breakdown of fat cells. It's also an antioxidant and supplies manganese, iron, and fiber.

Cinnamon, an extremely popular spice, comes in more than 100 varieties. I've always loved it; as little as one-quarter teaspoon per day, to help reduce blood sugar levels . Other benefits of cinnamon include the reduction of cholesterol levels and triglycerides and some antioxidant activity. Just smelling this wonderful spice can boost brain function and reduce irritability. It also supplies manganese, fiber, and iron. Besides using it in baked goods, try sprinkling it on coffee, toast, yogurt, or cottage cheese. It can give an interesting twist to the flavors of chicken and ground meat.

Cloves are the unopened buds of an evergreen tree. They can be used as a pickling spice or to make drinks such as mulled wine. A warming spice, it can help relieve congestion. Clove oil relieves a toothache. The eugenol in the oil is anti-inflammatory, and can help relieve the stiffness and pain of arthritis.

Ginger, common in many Asian cuisines, has been eaten for more than 4,000 years and was one of the first spices traded in Western Europe. It can help ease motion sickness and inhibit vomiting; in 1983, the British found that powdered ginger is twice as effective as Dramamine. It can help ease the side effects of chemotherapy. Gingerols (compounds in ginger) also appear to have an anti-inflammatory effect, which can help reduce the pain of arthritis. It also supplies potassium. One ounce of ginger root has only about 20 calories. Try ginger with meats, poultry, sushi, and some desserts.
I enjoy an occasional cup of ginger tea, available in health food stores. On the side of their box of "Ginger Aid" tea, Traditional Medicinals (a brand I've praised in previous articles on teas) states that ginger tea "promotes the flow of digestive juices." Try this pungent, somewhat spicy beverage with a bit of honey, agave nectar, or liquid stevia.

Thyme is one of my favorite herbs. If you have not yet tried cooking with it, don't be put off by the fact that thymol, which is thyme's most active ingredient, is in products like Listerine and Vicks. That's because it has antibacterial properties. When inhaled, thyme oil can help loosen phlegm and relax the muscles in the respiratory tract.Thyme is a common ingredient in Mediterranean dishes, and it's great with beef, lamb, or pork. Try adding it to stuffing, spaghetti sauce, pizza sauces, or chili. It can enhance any cheese, tomato, or egg dish. Once in food, it releases its full flavor rather slowly, so add it early in the cooking process. When dried, thyme retains its flavor better than many other herbs do, so dried or powdered thyme makes a perfectly good substitute for fresh thyme.

Turmeric is a main ingredient of curry. You can buy turmeric in capsule form if you don't like its taste. It can reduce the risk of gallstones, and also has anti-inflammatory properties. Like yogurt, it can help reestablish beneficial bacteria in the digestive system after the use of antibiotics. There is considerable evidence that it has anti-cancer properties; Indian men, who eat a lot of curry, have a low rate of prostate cancer.

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