I’m always reading research studies that focus on the food/mood connection. Think of the spice aisle at the grocery store as the natural pharmacy. A number of spices have brain-enhancing effects in addition to greatly enhancing the flavor in food. One of the healthy eating pillars I ascribe to is spicing up your food and brain, especially with those spices located in your kitchen cabinets. These can be powerful enough to help balance blood sugar, boost immunity, help prevent cancer, and give you better energy and focus.
Many commonly used spices have different associated health benefits. My top six favorites are the ones I use daily when cooking for my family. The key players in my kitchen are: Garlic, Cayenne Pepper, Chili Powder, Cinnamon, Turmeric and Ginger.
- Garlic: It has been used for medicinal purposes for over 5,000 years. Louis Pasteur confirmed the antibacterial effects of garlic in 1858. Compounds in garlic cause blood vessels to relax and dilate, increasing blood flow to the brain and improving brain function. Eating garlic regularly can help lower the risk of strokes, improve heart health and boost the immune system’s ability to fight off colds and flu.
- Cayenne Pepper: Its health benefits include, helping to prevent ulcers and certain cancers, as well as to relieve pain. It also increases hydrochloric acid (stomach acid), which aids in digestion. Cayenne pepper is loaded with vitamin A carotenoids. It helps fight inflammation, boost immunity and stimulate metabolism to promote weight loss.
- Chili Powder: This brain healthy compound contains capsaicin, which inhibits inflammation and damage from oxidation. It also may reduce cholesterol and triglycerides, prevent blood clots, lower heart attack risk, boost immunity, lower the risk of prostate cancer, help with the regulation of insulin and blood sugar, and reduce nasal congestion
- Cinnamon: If you want to improve your working memory or your ability to pay attention, eat cinnamon. It regulates blood sugar levels, which helps you maintain attention and improve cognitive performance.
- Turmeric: This popular Indian spice is actually a combination of many different spices, including curry which contains a chemical called curcumin. A potent antioxidant, curcumin reduces inflammation and helps to prevent and break-up the plaques thought to be responsible for Alzheimer’s disease. There is also evidence that it offers protection from cancer and supports healthy liver function.
- Ginger: As an anti-inflammatory agent, ginger may protect against neurodegenerative diseases and reduce oxidative stress that causes brain cells to age and die. Ginger contains natural antiemetic agents to help decrease nausea and vomiting. It is also believed to help lower cholesterol. The antifungal/antibacterial nature of ginger makes it a great treatment for wounds. The next time you feel a migraine coming on, reach for the ginger before you take your usual migraine medication
There are no rules to follow when you cook with spices. I encourage you to make it an exciting journey and to just follow your taste buds. As a nurse who is used to measuring everything carefully, I had a hard time doing this at first. But as I learned to relax and experiment, I began to discover wonderful new, healthy, and flavor-packed combinations that the entire family loves.
Remember to be adventurous and try some of my brain healthy recipes that are loaded with spices to help improve your overall health. My husband regularly reminds me that when our brain works right, we work right. The key to a healthy brain begins with what you put on the end of your fork. Eating the right foods and incorporating spices into your cooking is a great place to start!