Autumn 2021 True Natural Health Magazine – Your Questions Answered
By Roger French
QUESTION: Our family enjoys flavouring food with wonderful spices. We know that garlic, onion and ginger are good for us, but what about spices such as chilli, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, mustard, etc.? Should any or all of these be avoided?
As with garlic, onion and ginger, for most of these a little is good but a lot can be harmful. Moderation is the key.
Chili peppers (Capsicum annuum) are the fruits of Capsicum pepper plants, notable for their extremely hot flavour. They are members of the nightshade family, related to capsicums, tomatoes and potatoes. Varieties of chillies include cayenne and jalapeño. Powdered red chillies are known as paprika.
Capsaicin is the main bioactive compound and is responsible for their unique, pungent taste and many of their health benefits, which include promoting circulation and digestion.
Turmeric, the yellow spice prepared from the root of Curcuma longa, has widespread use in Indian and South East Asian cuisine. Its extract, curcumin, has also been used in both traditional Indian (Ayurvedic) and Chinese medicine to treat a range of ailments affecting the blood, liver, joints, immune system and digestive tract. It’s also touted as a potential treatment for diabetes, heart disease and even cancer.
Curcumin, is effective for thinning the blood, so is good for high blood pressure. It is also good for the liver and is an antioxidant.
There is now strong evidence that curcumin has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. (Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol 2012;39(3):283-299.) According to a nutritionist at Blackmore’s BioCeuticals, “Curcumin is one of the most profound anti-inflammatory agents we know of”. (Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2009; 41(1): 40–59.)
Research has found that the active ingredient in turmeric may slow ageing of the brain, improving memory and attention span. (Medical Observer, 23rd October 2015.)
A major limitation of curcumin is that it is poorly absorbed. Consequently, it needs to be consumed regularly in order to maintain beneficial blood levels.
It has generally been found to be safe in normal doses. However, a pregnant woman is advised not to take turmeric supplements.
Cumin, a spice made from the seeds of the Cuminum cyminum plant, has been a part of the human diet for thousands of years. It used for seasoning in food and as a popular remedy to treat conditions ranging from indigestion and diarrhoea to headaches, kidney and bladder stones and eye disease.
Scientists have found that cumin seeds may inhibit the growth of different kinds of cancers, including liver, stomach and colon cancers.
An organisation called Healthline lists the benefits of cumin ̶ https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/9-benefits-of-cumin.
Recent research has shown that cumin promotes digestion, reduces food-borne infections, promotes weight loss and improves blood sugar control in diabetes. One study found that three grams of cumin daily promoted weight loss.
In relation to nutrition, cumin seeds are rich in iron, one teaspoon of ground seeds contains 1.4 mg of iron. Cumin contains lots of plant compounds, including antioxidants.
Some of the benefits of cumin can be obtained by using just small amounts to season food. Benefits such as weight loss may require a higher dose, probably in the form of supplements.
Supplements of up to one gram (about 1 teaspoon) have been found to not cause problems.
Can lower mucous congestion and helps regulate blood sugar level. Herbalists employ its anti-catarrhal properties for respiratory problems. Throw a few seeds into a curry dish before commencing cooking.
A digestive tonic, but be sure to have only very little at a time. Mustard greens are much better than the seeds because they are rated as anti-cancer, along with the rest of the cabbage family.
Pepper can also be a powerful irritant. Its sharp bite and irritant properties are due to an alkaloid called piperine, which in large amounts can be harmful. Small amounts are not likely to cause harm, either short-term or long-term.
About spices in general
Heavy use of spices may not produce symptoms initially, because any damage is insidious, but when the harm is eventually apparent, it may be substantial.
Spicing foods mildly is probably safe and beneficial, except that nutmeg in particular should be eaten very sparingly. Large quantities of spices become irritants and are potentially harmful, especially to the liver and kidneys. This was highlighted in the Medical Journal of Australia many years ago when it reported that there is a high incidence of kidney stones among Indian-origin Fijians who consume a lot of spices. In contrast, in native Fijians not using spices, kidney stones are almost unknown.
Because spices increase the peripheral circulation ̶ which is why we perspire when we eat curry ̶ they may lower blood pressure, which for a person with existing low blood pressure could be risky.
On a positive note, the Food Technology journal, April 1992 issue, produced a list of ‘Cancer Preventative Foods and Ingredients’, in which a number of spices are included with the foods. Top of the list are garlic, cabbage, liquorice, soya beans, ginger, parsley, celery, carrots, fennel, aniseed, cumin and carraway.
The second most preventive group are onions, turmeric, whole grains, linseed, cabbage family (including mustard greens), citrus, chilli, eggplant, potato, tomato and capsicum