Gayatri Kashelkar reveals the health benefits of the traditional Indian spices.
Spices have traditionally been an integral part of the Indian cuisine. The traditional spices used in India include turmeric powder, red chili powder, caraway seeds (ajwain), clove, bay leaf, fenugreek seeds, flaxseeds, garlic, cinnamon and ginger. These spices find frequent use in Indian foods and are included to enhance the taste of the meal. Research studies have found that spices contain anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties and help to fight against infections. Spices also contain ‘thermogenic property’, i.e. they have fat burning properties. This helps improve the basal metabolic rate (BMR) of a person. Spices are also an excellent source of nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, iron, zinc and calcium.
In earlier days, people used to prepare fresh spices at home to flavour their food and make it appealing to the taste buds. Now a days, this traditional practice has been substituted by ready to eat foods like readymade spices, sauces and gravies. Packaged and readymade foods contain a lot of artificial colours, preservatives, additives and salt for a sustained use. Long term use of packaged products can significantly affect your health. It is recommended to use freshly ground spices and sauces prepared at home for a tasty, healthy and wholesome meal.
Spices to vouch for
Turmeric (haldi) powder contains ‘curcumin’ compound. Studies suggest that taking curcumin every day for a month can reduce diarrhoea and stomach pain. It helps relieve pain, fatigue and reduces the need for pain medications. Curcumin also suppresses the number and activity of fat cells. Turmeric has been found to be beneficial for arthritis, allergies, heart disease, inflammation and infections coughs. Use of turmeric powder in food helps the body to fight against free radicals (infection occurred due to foreign organisms such as bacteria and viruses).
Clove (laung) can be used in the compound as well as in the oil form. Clove oil helps treat indigestion, flatulence and toothache. It is also effective in treating gastric irritation.
Regular consumption of garlic (lahsun) helps to lower cholesterol levels and reduces skin problems such as acne, pimples, blackheads and blemishes. It contains anti-carcinogenic properties and helps fight cancer.
Ginger (adrak) contains various healing properties and is useful in treating digestive problems such as nausea, loss of appetite and morning sickness (during pregnancy). Chewing raw ginger piece or taking ginger tea is a common home remedy for nausea.
Cinnamon (dalchini) contains anti-inflammatory, antioxidants and antibacterial properties. Research shows that consumption of as little as 1 g of cinnamon by people with Type 2 Diabetes leads to controlled blood sugar levels and an improvement in insulin secretion, cholesterol levels and triglycerides. Consuming cinnamon can also help to treat food infection (salmonella), diarrhoea and the common cold.
Flaxseeds (jawas or alsi) are highly beneficial in preventing heart disease, Diabetes and stroke. It is a good source of omega-3 which reduces LDL (bad cholesterol). Omega-3 helps prevent hardening of the arteries and keeps the plaque from being deposited in the arteries, partly by keeping the white blood cells from sticking to the blood vessels. A recent study has shown that consuming flaxseed protects the body from different types of cancers due to the presence of ‘lignan’ compound. Lignan helps protect the body against cancer by blocking the enzymes that are involved in hormone metabolism. 2 tbsp. of flaxseeds mixed in cereals and soups can help reduce hot flash episodes during the post-menopausal stage.
Research studies have shown that consuming fenugreek (methi) seeds mixed with food during a meal lower post-meal sugar spikes in Type 2 Diabetes. It also helps to reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) but the effect of fenugreek seeds on HDL cholesterol and triglycerides is consistent. Clinical studies have proved that it is beneficial in Diabetes, heart disease, cancer and obesity.
Ways to use spices in food
- In case of a cough (infection), mix 2 g of turmeric powder in a glass of hot milk and drink twice a day. One can also use turmeric powder in dals, curries and in parathas in tempering (tadka)
- Use a piece of ginger in tea, vegetables and dals. Adding ginger while preparing green tea or ginger tea not only adds to the flavour but it also helps keep the upper respiratory tract clear.
- Cinnamon can be used as a sugar substitute by adding a pinch of cinnamon in milk or tea instead of sugar. Use whole cinnamon in curries, dals, pulav and rice preparations to enrich the taste.
- Flaxseed chutney is the best form to include the seeds in your daily meal. Combine roasted flaxseeds, garlic, salt and red chilies powder and grind them finely. Consuming 1 tbsp. of flaxseed chutney twice a day is beneficial to people with heart disease and Diabetes. It also promotes weight loss and improves lactation in breastfeeding mother.
- Use fenugreek seeds in tempering (tadka) form for vegetables, dals and in paratha in dough. The recommended amount of fenugreek seeds for people with Diabetes is 5-50 g in powdered
Strike the right balance
Some of the problems that may arise due to excess consumption of spices are:
- Turmeric powder can make gallbladder problems worse. It is also responsible for stomach upset in some people. It might worsen stomach problems such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (also known as severe acidity). Taking high amounts of turmeric may also prevent the absorption of iron. It is also responsible for slow blood clotting. Taking turmeric along with anti-coagulants (medications that slow down clotting) might increase the chances of bruising and bleeding.
- Excess consumption of ginger might increase bleeding. Ginger intake might interact with medicines such as anticoagulants (drugs that slow blood clotting). It is advised to avoid its consumption along with drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, heparin and warfarin. Excess consumption of ginger with anti-diabetic drugs may cause severe hypoglycaemia as ginger is known to lower blood sugar levels. It is also recommended not to consume ginger along with anti-hypertensive drugs as they can lower blood pressure and may cause an irregular heartbeat.
- Cinnamon can cause hypoglycaemia or low blood sugar levels. People with Diabetes who are prescribed Diabetes medication should avoid excess consumption of cinnamon as it can lead to hypoglycaemia. Cinnamon can affect blood sugar levels and might interfere with blood sugar control during and after surgery. It is advised to refrain from consuming cinnamon at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.
- Flaxseeds should be avoided by people with an obstruction in the food pipe (oesophagus) or intestine bleeding. Also, people with too high triglycerides levels and low blood pressure should avoid eating flaxseeds.
- Excess consumption of fenugreek seeds should be avoided by people on an empty stomach as it may cause hypoglycaemia. Fenugreek seeds should especially be stopped when on anticoagulants (medications that slow blood clotting) as it can interact with the medication and further slowdown the clotting.
As the saying goes ‘moderation is the key’, it is important to maintain a balance in the consumption of spices in every day diet. Excess consumption of spices can affect your health. It is advised to consume these spices in small amounts and to maintain the frequency of their use in your meals. It is highly recommended to consult your dietician before making any changes to your food.
Ms Gayatri Kashelkar is a Consultant Clinical Registered Dietitian and Diabetic Educator.