What do spicy Indian curry, zesty Italian pesto, refreshing Spanish gazpacho and Mexico’s chocolate-rich mole sauce have in common? They’ll all get your taste buds dancing. But they do a lot more than that. Tasty ethnic cuisine all-stars like these deliver a heap of phytonutrients that make you younger by avoiding cancer, heart disease, high blood sugar, dementia and more. That’s a great reason to visit your city’s summertime ethnic street fairs and make liberal and creative use of the herbs and spices hiding in your kitchen cabinet.
Don’t eat ethnic only sometimes – sprinkle more of this good stuff on the foods you munch every day. How? Think outside the box, like Dr. Mike does. He dusts steamed broccoli with cinnamon and spreads bright-yellow mustard (a great source of the super-healthy spice turmeric) on everything from celery to grilled salmon and whole-grain pasta! You should go for this gold with all the gusto Michael Phelps brought to the Olympics!
Giving your spice rack a workout ranks up there with eating fruit and veggies as “brilliant.” Take oregano. Prized in Italian and Greek cuisine, these tasty little leaves boast 30 times more polyphenols than potatoes, 12 times more than oranges and four times more than blueberries. True, you’d never munch a bunch of oregano that’s as big as a potato, but even a pinch of this herb packs a wallop. A tablespoon of fresh oregano’s got as much antioxidant power as a medium-size apple! And it outranks the antioxidant power of 27 other herbs that are used in cooking and botanical medicine.
Here’s the lowdown on other herbs and spices that punch up the flavor of popular ethnic cuisines – with ways you can use them to get healthier (and smarter) as you spice up whatever you’re cooking tonight.
Turmeric: The compound curcumin, found in the turmeric in yellow mustard (not so much in brown) and yellow curry powder has anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties. It offers some protection from cancer, diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease. A premiere flavor in Indian cuisine, don’t hesitate to use it on veggies or sauteed chicken, or in salad dressing.
Cinnamon: In this tasty spice, a compound called hydroxychalcone makes receptors on your cells work better so your body absorbs blood sugar more easily. Getting 1/2 to 1 teaspoon a day, sprinkled on food, could lower blood sugar 10 points. A favorite in German baked goods and Greek main dishes, like hearty moussaka, cinnamon is also delicious on oatmeal, in hot cocoa and sprinkled on fresh fruit, like apples and bananas.
Ginger: This popular flavor in Thai and Japanese cuisines may also cut your odds for inflammatory diseases like arthritis, as well as cancer and migraine headaches. (Another good use: Eat some if you’re prone to motion sickness or general nausea.) Try grated fresh ginger in salad dressing, and shake powdered ginger onto whole-grain muffins.
Garlic: Munching a clove a day could help lower your cholesterol by as much as 9 percent. Garlic contains tons of tangy compounds that may help protect against cancers of the breast, stomach, colon, esophagus and pancreas – and soothe high blood pressure a bit, too. Garlic’s a favorite from Scandinavia to Spain and Korea. Use it to spice up veggies, fish and your next pot of brown rice. It seems to make everything taste better – even try it on fruit.
Rosemary: A top seasoning in Mediterranean cooking (the French roast it with almonds, the Italians add it to herb mixes), rosemary’s antioxidant capabilities make it a must for 21st-century grill masters. Adding this herb to meat, fish and veggie marinades before grilling reduces flame-fueled cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines by up to 80 percent.
So, use spices to keep your body and brain younger – after all, using your brain to imagine new flavor combos keeps your brain sharp.
– Dr. Michael Roizen & Dr. Mehmet Oz
© 2012 Michael Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet Oz, M.D. Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.