Following is an excerpt from the Caltons’ popular new book, Rich Food, Poor Food. I’ve chosen their section on herbs and spices because I learned more details about how to choose the best herbs and spices, and what benefits they offer, from reading their material. If you notice on my Primal Blueprint Food Pyramid, herbs, spices and extracts occupy a nice little triangle at the top. You’re not consuming mass quantities of them as a big calorie source, but they make an important contribution to a healthy diet nevertheless. Besides adding flavor and protecting against microbes, herbs, spices, and extracts provide outstanding levels of antioxidants – some of the highest values found in any food.
Yep, I’m a big fan of herbs, spices, and extracts…and after reading Rich Food, Poor Food and having follow up discussions with the Caltons, I’ve tossed most of the stuff in my cupboard! Why? Because most of the jars found in my own home were not organic, and/or have been in there longer than a year. According to the Caltons, most conventional spices you find in the grocery store have been irradiated during their processing. This compromises their nutritional value and introduces health risks, which are detailed in the following excerpt.
Sorry, herbs and spices do not get better with age (maybe you’re confusing them with the Primal Blueprint indulgence of red wine?); in fact, they lose their potency and become bottled up free radicals when they linger too long on your shelves. For kicks, I asked several folks in the office to go home, take a look at their spice rack or cupboard, and guesstimate how long the stuff has been in there. One realized that her spinning tabletop rack was a holiday gift from seven or eight years ago! Here’s more on the subject from Rich Food, Poor Food, including a nice promo for their gold medalist (and one of my favorites) in the spice category: turmeric.
Rich Food, Poor Food – Excerpt from Herbs and Spices Section
Most grocery store spices are irradiated. Irradiation is the process of exposing food to radiation in order to destroy microorganisms, bacteria, viruses, or insects that might be present in the food. While irradiation works to kill bacteria, it also disrupts the structure of everything it passes through. Specifically, irradiation breaks up a food’s DNA, vitamins, minerals, and proteins and creates “free radicals” (atoms, molecules, or ions that contain unpaired electrons and crash into each other, multiplying exponentially), which contribute to many degenerative diseases, including heart disease, dementia, cancer, and cataracts.
Additionally, irradiation destroys the essential micronutrients that can help you reach micronutrient sufficiency. Your spice rack has so much to offer, that is, when you buy the Rich Food option, which is always the non-irradiated organic spice – our top pick. Here’s a rundown on the benefits of some of our favorite spices:
Dill: Helps your Digestion. A teaspoon a day can reduce 80 percent of bloating in only three days. Its antibacterial oils not only kill any possible stomach bugs but also help in the breakdown of carbohydrates and proteins.
Uses: Feathery texture is sharp-tasting. Great on fish, in chicken and potato salads. Used in pickling.
Tarragon: For Heart Health. One teaspoon daily lowered LDL cholesterol more than 40 percent while increasing good cholesterol nearly 30 percent. Tarragon contains a chemical called rutin, which boosts circulation and reduces plaque in the arteries.
Uses: Flavor of anise, licorice, mint, hay, and pine. Try it in Bernaise sauce.
Oregano: Bacteria Be Gone. Due to the high levels of antibacterial compounds and antioxidants, oregano is just as effective at killing E.Coli and staph bacteria as penicillin.
Uses: Tastes Robust. Best in tomato dishes, usually of Mediterranean or Mexican origin.
Bay Leaf: Natural Pain Reliever. Eliminates headaches and migraines. Bay leaf is rich in eugenol, a natural anesthetic that alleviates pain.
Uses: Tastes woody. Perfect in soups, sauces, stews, and pot roasts.
Rosemary: The Brain Booster and Fatigue Fighter. With just one sniff, the phytochemicals found in rosemary can rev up your mind by increasing production of beta waves. Carnosol, a nutrient unique to this herb, fights fatigue by flushing out energy-sapping toxins from the body.
Uses: Smell rosemary sprigs to increase alertness in only five minutes. Intense pine flavor. Great on grilled meats; adds an interesting boost to chocolate desserts.
Cayenne: Appetite Suppressant and Metabolism Booster. Capsaicin, found in cayenne, has thermogentic properties that increase your blood flow and metabolism. Individuals who only use cayenne infrequently also find it reduces hunger.
Uses: Sweet heat. Works well with meats and cheeses.
Cinnamon: Controls Glucose Levels. Cinnamon contains antioxidants called polyphenols that boost levels of three key proteins responsible for insulin signaling, glucose transport, and inflammatory response. Sprinkle one half teaspoon on your food to slow carbohydrate absorption by 29 percent.
Uses: Sweet and Savory. This spice is found in almost all world cuisine. From stews to pies this spice doesn’t discriminate.
Cardamom: Treats Indigestion. Chew one teaspoon of these seeds to soothe a sour belly. The aroma and therapeutic properties of cardamom are due to the volatile oil in its seed, which contains cineol, terpinene, limonene, sabinene, and terpineol.
Uses: Pungent and sweet. This fragrant spice is used in rich curries and milk-based preparations, as well as in spice cakes and desserts.
Sage: Memory Minder. Both the phytonutrients and volatile oils in sage maintain levels of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that supports memory.
Uses: Piney with eucalyptus notes. Lovely addition to stuffing and pork dishes.
And our favorite Rich Food spice is . . . Turmeric
This mildly woody spice is a key ingredient in many Indian, Persian, and Thai dishes. This “poor man’s” saffron is rich in benefits. The active ingredient, curcumin, is so powerful that it is commonly made into expensive nutraceutical capsules. According to Ajay Goel, Ph.D., Director of Epigenetics and Cancer Prevention at Baylor Research Institute in Dallas, “Curcumin is a complete well-being tonic – it benefits every organ in the body… It shows promise of fighting nearly every disease.” Dr. Goel suggests that curcumin aids in the prevention of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and depression.
Why not just cook up a cure in your kitchen tonight?
Curcumin Controls Blood Sugar: It switches on the liver genes that keep glucose levels in check. It improves the pancreas’s ability to make insulin and helps slow down the metabolism of carbohydrates after meals.
Curcumin Fights Cancer: It inhibits the genetic switches that allow for cancerous cell growth to occur.
Curcumin Speeds Up Metabolism: USDA research shows that is enhances cellular energy to speed metabolism.
Curcumin Clears Plaque: It removes amyloyd plaque buildup in the brain that can cause Alzheimer’s.
Let’s face it, organic spice jars are small and pricey, and it can take along time to use up some of these specialty ingredients. Your best bet is to buy your organic spices in the bulk section of your local health food or specialty spice store, where you can buy smaller amounts of the spices you need right away. This guarantees that your spices are fresh, loaded with flavor, and saves you money when a recipe only calls for a pinch. Buy your own glass jars online or wash out old spice jars and transfer contents from store baggies into convenient glass jars. Store them in a cool, dark place to prevent oxidative damage from light and oxygen.