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Nutrition: Thyme Is Of The Essence

By Ken Babal, C.N. Published in DRUM! Magazine's July 2008 Issue

The health consequences of vitamin and mineral deficiencies are obvious. But is it possible to have a spice deficiency? Culinary herbs are believed to be key factors in traditional diets of healthy global populations, but they are sadly lacking in the typical American diet.

Ginger, one of the world’s favorite spices, contains compounds that inhibit pain and inflammation. Its blood-thinning properties are said to be comparable to drugs prescribed for that purpose. If you’re a sushi fan, you can get your quota with the sculpted rosette of raw ginger that accompanies the fish. Ginger is also commonly found in foods flavored with curry.

An even more essential component of curry is turmeric. On a near-monthly basis, studies on turmeric’s cancer-fighting qualities are published in major medical journals. The studies are spurred by the observation that India, where turmeric is an important part of the diet, has a rate of colon, breast, prostate, and lung cancer that is ten-times lower than that of the U.S.

Closer to Americans’ hearts is good ol’ cinnamon. Its aroma sets off a Proustian memory chain of hot oatmeal on winter mornings, apple pie on warm summer nights, and sticky buns right out of the oven. And that’s not all it spices. One study found that the smell of cinnamon buns affects men’s sexual arousal more than any other scent.

One spice you don’t want on your breath when feeling amorous is garlic. Nevertheless, hundreds of studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects of garlic on all risk factors relating to heart disease, including high blood pressure and cholesterol. Garlic also has antibiotic properties, hence the nickname “Russian penicillin.” Its antibiotic properties are actually about 1 percent the strength of prescription penicillin against certain types of bacteria.

It may be no coincidence that cinnamon pairs so nicely with sugar in recipes. Laboratory experiments indicate that cinnamon helps the body make better use of insulin, the hormone that lowers blood sugar, by facilitating its entry into muscle cells for energy use. Cinnamon’s insulin-like properties were discovered completely by accident. Scientists looking at the effects of common foods on blood sugar expected apple pie spiced with cinnamon to cause a spike in glucose levels. To their surprise, cinnamon actually helped lower the pie’s glycemic index.

Other herbs and spices you should add to your diet: clove, cilantro, green tea, rosemary, oregano, dill, basil, parsley, and peppermint. So before heading out to that gig, pack a few bay leaves into your stick bag side pocket.

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