Your kitchen spice rack can be your personal pharmacy

Spices are packed with health benefits containing anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, and anti-obesity properties

By Sulogna Mehta  Published on  3 Sep 2023 4:30 AM GMT
Your kitchen spice rack can be your personal pharmacy

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Hyderabad: Indian cuisine is incomplete and unthinkable without traditional spices. Not only do spices add flavour and zing to food, but they are also packed with health benefits containing anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, and anti-obesity properties and can boost digestion, immunity, metabolism and much more.

Common Indian kitchen spices

Commonly used kitchen spices (in seeds or powder form) include cumin (jeera), coriander (dhaniya), turmeric (haldi), cinnamon (dalchini), cardamom (elaichi), carom (ajwain), fenugreek (methi), fennel (saunf), saffron (kesar or zafran) and black pepper (kali mirch).

Most of these spices can be consumed raw, in cooked dishes, as seasoning or garnishing agents in salads, chaats etc., as herbal tea or concoction, as a refreshing drink mixed in water or milk (like turmeric milk) or mixed in dough to enhance the flavour.

Cancer-inhibiting effects of cinnamon (dalchini)

Recently, a study by Hyderabad-based Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)-National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) demonstrated that cinnamon and its active components — cinnamaldehyde and procyanidin B2 — when administered orally to rats had an inhibitory effect on early-stage prostate cancer. It was found that cinnamon can mitigate oxidative stress, and reduce the spread of cancer cells in the prostate gland.

Cinnamon also has a beneficial effect on bone mineral content and decreases bone degeneration. In addition, antioxidants-rich cinnamon also possess anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and anti-diabetic properties and can reduce cholesterol levels and high blood pressure.

Nutritionist, founder and executive director of Starlite Nutrition Centre, Anjali Dange spoke to NewsMeter, explaining the health benefits of different spices, recommended daily allowance and contraindications.

Cumin (Jeera)

Jeera as a spice has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties. It is a good source of dietary fibre, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus. It is safe to consume up to one teaspoon per day.

Benefits: Jeera improves digestion as it is a carminative; it helps to relieve gas and bloating. It also stimulates the production of digestive enzymes, which assist to break down food more easily. It boosts metabolism by increasing the body’s ability to burn calories.

Jeera has anti-inflammatory properties, which can help to protect against diseases. Jeera boosts immunity as it is a good source of antioxidants, which can help protect the body against damage from free radicals. As a good source of iron, it is essential for the production of red blood cells.

As jeera has analgesic properties, it can be used to relieve pain from headaches, stomach cramps, and muscle aches. Jeera can improve respiratory health because it has expectorant properties, which can help to loosen mucus and phlegm in the respiratory tract. It can be used to treat coughs, colds, and bronchitis.

Jeera’s antibacterial and antifungal properties can help to protect the skin against infection. It can also be used to reduce acne and other skin blemishes.

There are no known contraindications to consuming cumin, but it can interact with certain medications. So, first, talk to the doctor before consuming large quantities of cumin especially if one is taking blood thinners and diabetes medications.

Coriander (Dhaniya)

Benefits: Dhaniya aids in digestion as it can help alleviate digestive issues like bloating and indigestion. Coriander seeds contain antioxidants that may protect against cell damage. They have anti-inflammatory properties, which can be helpful for certain conditions.

Some studies suggest that dhaniya may help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Coriander seeds may also help regulate blood sugar levels. They can also be chewed as a breath freshener. Consuming a teaspoon (around five grams) as part of a daily diet is generally considered safe.

Contraindications: Side effects can include allergies and kidney issues. So, people with renal problems should avoid large quantities of coriander seeds, as they contain oxalates, which can contribute to kidney stone formation. Pregnant women should consume coriander seeds in moderation, as excessive amounts can produce heat in the body.

Turmeric (Haldi)

Benefits: Turmeric contains curcumin, which has potent anti-inflammatory effects. It helps in blood clotting and can stop bleeding in a cut or wound. As a powerful antioxidant, it helps protect the cells from damage. Turmeric may help alleviate pain, particularly in conditions like arthritis. It can ease symptoms of indigestion. Some studies also suggest it may have anti-cancer properties.

It is advised to consume around 500 to 2,000 milligrams (mg) of curcumin (the active compound in turmeric) per day for potential health benefits. However, individual tolerance and needs may vary.

Contraindications: Turmeric may worsen existing gallbladder problems, so it is better to consult a healthcare professional before consuming. Turmeric can also enhance the effects of blood-thinning medications, potentially leading to excessive bleeding. Pregnant women should use turmeric in moderation, just as a spice in cooking.

Black pepper (Kali Mirch)

Benefits: Black pepper has cancer-fighting properties, it is anti-inflammatory, rich in antioxidants and prevents premature ageing, detoxifies the body, prevents constipation and helps in digestion, cleanses the intestines and stomach, helps regulate the heart rate and high blood pressure, and helps to produce red blood cells. The piperine compound in pepper aids in weight loss by boosting metabolism. One to two teaspoons per day is recommended.

Contraindications: People with bleeding disorders must consume in moderation as black pepper can slow blood clotting.

Cardamom (Elaichi)

Benefits: Cardamom is a carminative, which means it helps to relieve gas and bloating. It can also improve digestion and absorption of nutrients. Cardamom may help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It also contains antioxidants that can protect the heart from damage.

Cardamom has anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce swelling and pain. Cardamom may help boost metabolism and promote weight loss. Cardamom can help freshen your breath and fight oral bacteria.

Cardamom may help improve cognitive function and memory. Consuming up to two grams per day is adequate. Some contraindications of consuming cardamom include allergies, hives and itching.

Carom (Ajwain)

Benefits: Ajwain can help relieve indigestion, bloating, and gas. It has anti-inflammatory effects and may provide relief from inflammation-related conditions. Ajwain is used in traditional remedies for respiratory issues like coughs and asthma. It contains antioxidants that can support overall health. It can be chewed as a breath freshner.

Contraindications: Pregnant women should use ajwain in moderation, as excessive consumption may stimulate the uterus. Some individuals may be allergic to ajwain.

Fennel (Saunf)

Benefits: Fennel seeds are commonly consumed after meals to aid digestion and reduce bloating. They contain antioxidants that help combat oxidative stress. Fennel is used in traditional remedies to alleviate respiratory issues like coughs and congestion. Fennel seeds add a unique, aromatic flavour to dishes. They can be chewed raw as a breath freshener.

Contraindications include fennel allergies. Pregnant women should use fennel in moderation, as excessive consumption may affect their hormone levels.

Fenugreek (Methi)

Benefits: Fenugreek or methi seeds aid digestion and alleviate issues like bloating and indigestion. They may help manage blood sugar levels, making them beneficial for individuals with diabetes. Methi seeds are often consumed by nursing mothers to promote lactation. They contain antioxidants that can protect cells from oxidative damage.

Methi seeds add a distinctive, slightly bitter flavour to dishes. A teaspoon or less is commonly used in recipes.

Contraindications: Some individuals may be allergic to fenugreek and should use it with caution. Also, methi seeds may have mild blood-thinning effects, so individuals on blood-thinning medications should consult a healthcare professional before consuming them.

Saffron (Kesar or Zafran)

Benefits: Saffron may help improve mood and reduce symptoms of mild to moderate depression. It contains antioxidants that protect cells from oxidative stress and has anti-inflammatory properties. It acts as an appetite suppressant and may help curb appetite, making it potentially useful for weight management. Generally, a safe and commonly recommended daily dosage is around 20 to 30 milligrams (mg) per day.

Contraindications for saffron include allergic reactions in some individuals. Large amounts of saffron can stimulate the uterus and potentially lead to contractions. So, pregnant women should avoid excessive consumption.

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