By Joyce Reyes-Aguila
These days, herbs and spices no longer “just” add flavor to daily dishes. Experts continue to discover how beneficial they can be to our health, and the awareness to the positive gains of making these a part of one’s diet is increasing. After all, Hippocrates, the acknowledged Father of Medicine, famously encouraged diners to let their food be their medicine.
In an interview with this writer for the Panorama magazine early this year, medical doctor and owner of wellness center Rapha Valley Place of Wellness Albert Jo discussed the ability of food, including herbs, to cure certain conditions. Ailing from rheumatic heart disease, asthma, and hypertension, Dr. Jo started to discover the healing power of food by adding garlic and onions to his diet. His goal was to improve his health without drinking more medicine. In the article “Flavorful, powerful, yet vulnerable Filipino fare,” Dr. Jo shared his journey of practicing, among others, the so-called Hallelujah Diet from the Jordan Rubin Health Institute. The plant-based eating program promotes self-healing by removing toxins in the body that weaken cells. According to online sources, this allows the body to get the full value of vitamins and minerals that keep cells healthy.
Changes in his lifestyle lessened the frequency of his chest pains, asthma attacks, and migratory poly arthritis. And at Rapha Valley, a “no fried and oil-sautéed” food policy is implemented. In its place are 14 kinds of herbs used to flavor the food instead of relying on MSG (monosodium glutamate), which some studies have identified to be harmful to health when not taken in moderation. The doctor is a proponent of regularly eating natural food sources to improve or maintain one’s health.
If you have been curious about some options you have seen at the grocery or weekend markets, here are some herbs and spices that can help you make your kitchen a source of healthier (and flavorful) meals:
You may already know that this spice can help prevent or slow down the onset of Alzheimer’s disease because of its main active ingredient called curcumin that has been found to be a very strong antioxidant with powerful anti-inflammatory effects. It helps boost the body’s activity, improve brain function, and even help with depression. The yellow spice, according to Camille Noe Pagán of webmd.com, has also been found to help ease pain and lower chances of heart attacks. In the article “Spices and herbs that can help you stay healthy,” the author says that turmeric, when consumed in small amounts, can also prevent brain plaques that may cause dementia. Add turmeric when you cook scramble eggs or serve vegetables for dinner. Or make it part of your smoothie or enjoy a cup of turmeric tea daily.
If you are just starting to incorporate herbs and spices to eat healthier, familiar tastes like that of cinnamon can be a good place to start. Replace your regular coffee or tea sweetener with cinnamon as it is known to be very low in calories. Like turmeric, it is known to curb inflammation and fend off free radicals that damage cells in the body. It is also believed to help alleviate gastrointestinal problems and improve blood flow. So this weekend, serve some fruits, like a mix of banana and berries with cinnamon sprinkles, okay?
- Cayenne pepper.
Looking to lose weight? This could be the spice for you, as has been found to reduce appetite because of its active ingredient, capsaicin. Cayenne pepper is often an ingredient used in supplements taken by those who want to cleanse and detoxify, but will surely give similar benefits as part of home-cooked meals. Dr. Edward Group enumerates a myriad of benefits from this spice in his piece “17 health benefits of cayenne pepper” on globalhealing.com. This includes being used for ailments such as heartburn, tremors, gout, dyspepsia, sore throat, tonsillitis, and diphtheria. It can also help prevent migraine, aid in digestion, when applied directly to the site, can help ease pain of a sore tooth!
Cookies or brownies with peppermint, anyone? What many love for their aromatherapy (or cure for their nausea) is a herb that has long been known for its health benefits. The article “10 delicious herbs and spices with powerful health benefits” on healthline.com says that peppermint oil can improve pain management in irritable bowel syndrome. Further, it adds that peppermint helps relax the muscles in the colon and reduce abdominal bloating.
This is one of the staple and most accessible herbs that many of us regularly eat without knowing its benefits. Garlic is known to reduce the possibility of heart disease and cancer cells. It is prescribed to patients who have blood pressure woes, high cholesterol, or have experienced heart attacks. Pagán notes that garlic should be chopped or have its clove chopped when cooked to allow its powerful compound called allicin to form.
“Even sniffing it may be good for you,” writes Pagán. Some studies have observed that the ultra-fragrant herb allowed people to perform better on memory tests and other mental tasks just after a whiff of it. Aside from helping boost brain activity, rosemary has also been found to help stroke patients in their recovery by protecting the brain from being damaged. It has antioxidants and is known to relieve muscle pain and aid in hair growth. Consider serving rosemary chicken for Sunday lunch or discovering how you can serve chocolate dessert with this healthy herb!