A spice is a seed, fruit, root, bark, berry, bud or other vegetable substance primarily used for flavouring, colouring or preserving food. Spices are distinguished from herbs, which are parts of leafy green plants used for flavouring or as a garnish till about 20 years ago when spicy food that is food mixed with spices in general was considered unhealthy. But various studies have now shown that each spice is useful in its own way and is good for health.
Spices in general stimulate appetite and increase flow of saliva and gastric juices, which aids in digestion. Turmeric, which gives yellow colour to curries, has multiple benefits for the body and brain. The powder applied in a paste form over a wound helps in its healing, due to its antiseptic properties. Mixing small quantity of turmeric powder and drinking it with hot milk helps in curing cold and cough. Curcumin is the main ingredient present in turmeric which has strong anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. Thus, it prevents wear and tear of body tissues and reduces ongoing inflammation. Due to this effect, it hinders aging and prevents cancer. A paste, using pinch of turmeric applied to the face, imparts a glow to the face.
Cinnamon has strong anti-oxidant properties. It slows down movement of food from the stomach to small intestines, thus delaying breakdown of carbohydrates. In this way, it helps in controlling diabetes and also helps in weight control. Use of cinnamon is also beneficial for arthritic pain, migraine cure and also helps in improving memory. Mustard seeds are rich in calcium potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, all minerals which are useful in keeping the body healthy in many ways. They are also a good source of omega 3 fatty acids which help in building immunity of the body.
Cumin seeds give a distinct pleasant flavour to curries foods and beverages. It aids in digestion and is used to cure uncomfortable bloating, colic pain of abdomen, flatulence. It helps to improve urine flow and also has aphrodisiac (increasing sexual desire) properties. All varieties of pepper are rich in potassium, folic acid, and vitamins A and C.
Pepper is useful in pain relief. Used regularly, it is said to burn the body fat. Carom seeds are very useful to enhance the digestive process. They are helpful in curing flatulence, stomach colic and discomfort. Cardamom is also useful in curing digestive problems like nausea, heart burn, and the uncomfortable bloating sensation of the stomach. It helps the kidneys in removing waste material from the body.
Cloves are also useful for human health. They have strong antioxidant properties. They also check sepsis; provide warmth and numbing of pain. They also help in relieving bad breath in the mouth and reducing tooth decay.
Coriander leaves are rich in vitamin C, vitamin K and protein. They also contain traces of calcium, phosphorus, thiamine, niacin and carotene, various substances which help in preventing degenerative changes in body.
Coriander seeds are a great source of potassium, iron, vitamins A, K, and C, folic acid, magnesium, and calcium.
Another benefit of adding these spices to food and drinks is that their flavour is enhanced. Thus, one consuming them has an early sense of satiety, which prevents over eating and helps maintain normal body weight. They do not increase calories.
One can add a small amount of spices in garnishing, seasoning or frying food. But excess use can also be harmful. For example, excess use of pepper can cause heart burn; and cinnamon can enhance thinning property of blood. Some spices interact with drugs as well, an effect largely unknown and ignored. Therefore, many drugs have to be taken two hours before or after food.
Dr Rachna Pande,
Specialist, internal medicine