Spices can be healthy update to mundane, bland diet foods

All too often I visit with patients, clients, friends and even family and hear the same piercing words. My body cringes and the hairs on the back of my neck rise as someone utters, “If it’s healthy for you, it can’t taste good.”

It pains me to think of the vast number of people who suffer from this misconception. True, healthy foods have been stereotyped as bland, dull and quite cardboard-like. But the truth of the matter is that low-fat and low-sodium cooking can boast exceptional flavors with spices.

As dietitians, we recommend seasoning meats, poultry, vegetables, grains and more with succulent spices instead of adding butter, oil or salt. The American Heart Association recommends limiting consumption of fat, especially saturated and trans fat, and sodium, to help prevent heart disease and high blood pressure. But the health benefits of spices stretch beyond jazzing up a baked chicken breast or sauteed vegetables.

Anne Vanbeber, professor and chair of the nutrition and dietetics department, notes in her article “Spices of Life” that modern research is affirming the medicinal value of spices.

Vanbeber recommends stocking your spice rack with:

1. Turmeric: A peppery powder commonly added to curries, lentils, cauliflower and potatoes that inhibits promotion and progression of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers.

2. Ginger: A root found in fresh, powdered and crystallized forms that has been shown to be more effective than Dramamine in reducing dizziness, nausea and vomiting associated with motion sickness.

3. Cinnamon: A bark commonly used in breakfast cereals, desserts and beverages that may help significantly reduce blood-glucose levels in Type 2 diabetics and risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

4. Cayanne: A fiery powder that contains antioxidant immune-enhancing properties, which can reduce pain, prevent ulcers, maintain heart health and relieve nasal congestion.

5. Cloves: A dried flower bud that provides antioxidant, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties and is commonly used to flavor rice, grains, ham or pork.

The benefits of cooking with spices do not end there. Researchers at the University of Hong Kong claim common seasoning can protect you from food poisoning. They found that a higher antioxidant value has a greater ability to inhibit bacterial activity. The top protectors were cloves, cinnamon sticks and oregano.

Not only will adding just a half teaspoon of spices provides a symphony of flavor to your taste buds, but it can help protect you from life-threatening diseases.

Kristina Keilson is a senior nutrition major from The Woodlands.