You work out regularly, exercise is your life ritual, and fitness is your personality trait! Being a fitness enthusiast has made you more conscious of your body and health, and you realize that total body fitness and whole body health is about balance, inside and outside. Did you know that adding a little spice will keep your body and mind in healthy balance?
Fitness routines magnify your awareness of body, health, and lifestyle. You start to realize how your body responds to your way of life as a whole, be it overeating, stress from work, lack of sleep, exertion from strenuous exercise, inflammation or stiffness in bones and muscles, pain from physical injuries, fatigue and low energy, or even factors such as allergies from environmental exposure that can affect the very course of your life. Once you realize these effects, you can make positive changes and spice up to promote overall health. Nature is a true healer and certain spices and herbs will naturally prevent certain illnesses, fight infections, cure and cleanse your system with their antiseptic, antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties when part of your diet.
With this in mind, let’s examine how you can add big flavor as well as gain health benefits by adding common Indian cooking spices such as cayenne, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, and garlic into your daily menu.
Cayenne peppers (also known as red chili peppers) are often linked with hot and spicy food. These strong flavored peppers have a lot of therapeutic cures—inside and out, and body and mind.
Next time you bite into a red chili pepper or eat spicy food, notice the increase in your body temperature. This rise in body temperature actually accelerates your metabolism, increases blood circulation, clears out fat and triglycerides, and enhances your cardiovascular performance while lowering blood pressure.
The capsaicin in peppers also helps release feel-good endorphins and boosts stamina and vigor in conjunction with reducing aches and pains, alleviating inflammation, and reducing the pain of arthritis.
Cayenne can be added to any recipe during cooking or when marinating with salt and pepper to gain from its healing benefits. Cayenne or red chili powder dusted on a dark chocolate bar is known to be an aphrodisiac, too.
Turmeric is nature’s wonder spice. It’s not just a condiment and coloring agent but a medicine as well. Turmeric is known for its many therapeutic cures (anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, anti-oxidant, and hypoglycemic) and antiseptic properties.
Let’s say you are suffering from an inflamed knee joint. Adding a little turmeric to your stew or soup will help reduce inflammation, pain, swelling in external and internal injuries, and increase your rate of healing. As an added benefit, turmeric helps cure damage to muscles, bones, ligaments, and tendons after strenuous exercise.
Turmeric can be added in moderation to any recipe, during cooking or while marinating, to gain from its healing benefits. If high protein food is part of your diet, turmeric can aid in digestion of protein, promote metabolism in the body, and act as carminative (expels gas) and stomachic (tonic for belly ache) in the treatment of digestive disorders.
Turmeric is also widely known for its decongestant and expectorant properties. Drinking warm milk with one-half teaspoon of turmeric is good for curing colds, coughs, and other bronchial ailments, especially during allergy seasons. Turmeric capsules are also available in the pharmacies if you find it difficult to adopt this spice in your cooking.
This sweet tasting, aromatic spice has a lot of utilitarian benefits besides flavor. Cinnamon is said to contain some antibacterial, antifungal, antioxidant, and astringent properties. It’s also a good source of manganese, fiber, iron, and calcium.
Did you ever ponder why a cup of coffee or tea with cinnamon perks you up? Well, cinnamon is believed to improve energy, vitality, and circulation as well as decrease fatigue. Simply smelling cinnamon is said to boost cognitive function and memory. Eating cinnamon and local honey on an empty stomach is the best way to start your day in allergy season since this combination helps cure colds, congestion, and runny noses.
If you believe in fitness inside and out, you will also appreciate that cinnamon helps relieve arthritic pain and inflammation while lowering your triglycerides, blood sugar, and cholesterol.
Cinnamon can be dusted on cakes, puddings, breads, and cereals and on beverages such as eggnog, hot chocolate, mulled wine, coffee, and tea to add extra zing. Cinnamon sticks or garam masala (an Indian ground spice made from a combination of cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves) can be added to flavor meat, curries, and stew.
A popular ingredient in Indian, Italian, and French cuisines, garlic has been known for its medicinal purposes for many centuries. It has antibiotic, antifungal, antimicrobial, hypotensive, anticatarrhal (dissolving and eliminating mucous), expectorant, stimulative, and vulnerary (useful in the treatment of wounds) properties.
While garlic may leave you with bad breath, it’s working hard to lower your blood pressure, triglycerides, and cholesterol. Its volatile oils are an effective agent against colds and bronchial ailments and on viral and bacterial parasites.
Garlic can be eaten in many forms but it’s most potent when eaten raw. When cooking with garlic, maximize its health benefits by chopping or crushing the garlic and then setting it aside for 10 to 15 minutes before using. This process triggers an enzyme reaction or releases active phytochemicals that boosts the healthy compounds in garlic. If you cannot handle raw garlic, it also comes in tablet form.
Ginger root is a spicy herb with many antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, carminative, and rubefacient (increasing blood flow to the skin) properties. By adding fresh chopped or crushed ginger in your cooking, you are putting natural digestive tonics into your food.
A great cure for cramps is to drink a ginger decoction (boil a spoonful of chopped ginger in water). Ginger has rubefacient properties and as such helps in arthritis pain, inflammations, swelling, and fibrositis.
You can slice, grate, and smash ginger into a paste and use it in marinating and cooking meat and vegetables. It can also be sugared or soaked in honey and then eaten or dropped into a tea decoction and drunk.
If you look at health as wholeness—being fit inside and out—you need to live your life with sport and spice. Adopt these natural holistic herbs and spices in your diet (try the Spicy Shrimp Curry recipe included here) and enjoy good food and good health while achieving total body health.
This dish is a spicy curry cooked with shrimp in an onion and tomato base that uses the healthiest of spices. Spicy Shrimp Curry has a soup-like consistency and can be eaten with rice or French bread.
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon ginger paste
1 teaspoon garlic paste
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 whole cloves
2 cardamom pods
1 stick cinnamon
3 large tomatoes, finely chopped
1 ½ teaspoon red pepper powder
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 pound medium-sized shrimp, peeled
1 jalapeño/green chili, slit and seeded
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
Birjis Adeni Rashed is a food writer, culinary instructor and consultant. Follow her blog and recipes on www.hotsweetspicyrecipes.com or follow her updates on www.facebook.com/hotsweetspicyrecipes or www.twitter.com/HtSwtSpcyRecipe