In man’s eternal quest for health, he has turned to many natural remedies that include the mythical aphrodisiacal properties of tiger penis soup to the weird and wonderful world of eel porn. Now, if your local Whole Foods happens to be all out of these healthy items, you might find the solution closer at hand – lurking at the back of your spice cupboard.
Spices have a host of health benefits and man has been using them as far as records go back for their medicinal value. Scientists in the U.S. recently discovered that these flavor-givers have more antioxidants than either fruits or vegetables.
So, whether it’s weight loss you’re after, muscle relaxants for after bouts of exercise or if you’re having skin problems, the solution might just be a spicy one. Sounds like a good excuse to get a dry-rub on the go and fire up the barbecue – in fact, recent scientific experiments have shown that a sprinkle of spice on your meat prior to grilling can lower its cancer-causing carcinogens. Here are the health benefits of cooking with spices.
Used in: an essential part of Indian cooking, Turkish kebabs and kofta, North African and Moroccan food, it also extends as far as China and northern Mexico.
Try: taking whole seeds (toasted), tossed with grated carrot, lime juice, sultanas, and diced pickled jalapenos as a side for grilled meat.
Why: Cumin has a whole host of health benefits ideal for men who are on a fitness regime or interested in their body’s ability to stay at the top of its game. The spice raises one’s metabolic rate and makes it easier for the body to absorb nutrients. It is incredibly rich in iron, which helps to make the blood richer in hemoglobin, which is essential for muscle strength during exercise as it ferries oxygen to, and removes carbon dioxide from, your muscles. It also aids digestion, relieving plenty of potentially embarrassing ailments such as flatulence and diarrhea. Finally, it improves mental alacrity and memory functions, meaning you’ll never forget her birthday, favorite song or, name again.
Used in: South American cooking and taken around the world by Portuguese sailors, and now one of the backbones of Asian food.
Try: Cooking with this spice could take the form of green chilies with fresh cilantro, natural yogurt, lime juice, and mint leaves; serve with grilled chicken.
Why: We’re all familiar with capsaicin in its most commonly found form — chili. The Scoville scale measures heat in these fiery bad boys according to how much capsaicin is found within them. Scientists originally thought the heat was designed as a defense mechanism, which kind of backfired when it came to humans who developed an addiction to the fiery stuff.
Cooking with this spice packs a health punch as well as a heat kick, providing pain relief, relieving a blocked up nose and preventing painful sinusitis (useful if you still smoke). Probably more key for us guys is the fact it can aid weight loss as a “thermogenic agent,” which means it raises metabolic activity in the body thus helping to burn calories and fat. Above all, though, is the fact it that it will “make you strong like an ox” as it increases your libido by increasing your heart rate, stimulating nerve endings and releasing endorphins.
Used in: Nearly every country’s cuisine uses black peppercorns; the most delicious of which are said to come from Kampot in Cambodia.
Try: Roll tuna in crushed black peppercorns, sear in a hot pan, chill, and serve thickly sliced with diced avocado, red chili, lime juice, and coriander.
Why: Almost every savory recipe these days calls for a generous grind of the pepper mill — indeed, food can often taste bland without it. It’s a great idea to add lots to your food as black pepper is what is known as a carminative, a substance that helps prevent intestinal gas from forming (and, in turn, flatulence), and anything that can help in that department has to be a bonus. In fact, it’s great for the entire digestive process — in ingestion it kick-starts the taste buds that, in turn, send a message to the stomach to increase acid production. The outer layer of peppercorns helps break down fat cells, thus, make sure you buy whole spices (a rule that should be followed when buying any spices as their flavor is much more potent when freshly ground).
Used in: Thai, Chinese, Indian, and other Asian foods, as well as Caribbean cuisine.
Try: A Thai-inspired salad with seared steak, diced tomato, cucumber, and spring onion; whip up a dressing with fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, chili flakes, and grated ginger.
Why: Ginger is one of the cornerstones of Asian cooking and for very good reason. Medicinally, it is used to treat many intestinal disorders, nausea and motion sickness; in tests it was shown to be more potent than some over-the-counter remedies. Ginger is rich in the aptly named gingerol, which is responsible for its flavor. In a study conducted in 2003, ginerol was shown to reduce growth in colorectal cancer cells as well as having strong anti-inflammatory properties.
Sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome can find relief with ginger as it can help reduce and prevent spasms. After a large meal, try making ginger tea by adding slices to hot water to aid your digestion – particularly with fatty foods and proteins. It can also help reduce low-density lipoprotein (bad) cholesterol because it helps lower the amount the body absorbs. Ginger also contains shogaols that are thought (no solid evidence yet) to have anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties._________________________________________________________________________
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Used in: Indian and Chinese cuisine as far back as the 7th century.
Try: khao soi, a Burmese soup made with coconut milk, noodles, curry powder, turmeric, Thai red curry paste, chicken, fish sauce, lime juice, and stock, garnished with coriander and spring onions
Why: Its luminous hue will stain anything it touches, so take care when handling this vivid spice. You can find the fresh root occasionally in Asian stores, but it is most commonly found ground in the supermarket. The list of health benefits associated with turmeric is very, very long, but at top of that list must be its cancer-fighting properties. Paired up with veggies like cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage, there is solid evidence to suggest it is very useful in preventing prostate cancer (there are approximately half a million new cases of this type of cancer each year in the U.S. alone). Most of us enjoy a drink (or several) and turmeric also strengthens the liver’s potential to purify toxins in the body, along with carcinogens found in the diet (bring on the steak). Turmeric is also great at lowering cholesterol as it prevents the oxidization of cholesterol, which is what makes it harmful; this is all good for protecting your heart as it is the oxidized cholesterol that damages blood vessels. The yellow spice is also an anti-inflammatory.
Used in: native to South East Asia, but now used as far as Mexico and the Middle East.
Try: Make a traditional apple crumble with stewed apple under a crust of flour, sugar and butter – but add a large pinch of cinnamon to the crumble mix before baking. Serve with heavy cream.
Why: Classically served mixed with sugar on toast, cinnamon is also widely used to flavor curries in South-East Asia. It contains cinnamaldehyde, which helps prevent the blood from clotting and, in turn, inflammation. It is useful as part of a diet as a dose of cinnamon sprinkled on food slows the rate at which it exits the stomach (and, in turn, stops you from feeling hungry soon after eating, along with blood sugar spikes that cause mood swings).
Bizarrely, you don’t even need to eat cinnamon to reap its health benefits; just smelling the spice can increase brain activity. Cinnamon also contains eugenol, a powerful anti-inflammatory also found in cloves. The spice contains the combination of calcium and fiber, which have a number of benefits including the removal of bile salts that can cause damage to the colon. This has a secondary benefit too, as when the body senses that bile has been removed it breaks down cholesterol to form more.
Used in: derived from Mexican orchids, this is traditionally South American, but the most favored is now grown in Madagascar.
Try: Add vanilla to thick natural yogurt with icing sugar to taste. Layer up glasses with crumbled biscuit, poached fruits and the vanilla yogurt to create a simple, delicious dessert.
Why: Aphrodisiacs are the name of the game, and the essential oil in vanilla stimulates the secretion of hormones like testosterone and estrogen, which increase libido, promotes arousal and generally point you in the right sexual direction. Vanilla is a strong antioxidant and, in turn, anticarcinogenic, useful if you are a smoker. Vanilla’s active compound is vanillin, which is a strong antioxidant; it also contains vanillanoid, which functions in a similar way to capsaicin, the active compound in chilies, and lowers stress levels in the body.
One of the recent discoveries with vanilla was its potential to fight sickle-cell disease; vanillin prevents cells forming the sickle shape, but unfortunately the active ingredient is destroyed by stomach acid – scientists are currently working on a way around this problem.