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Common spices used in Indian food may offer health benefits

December 27, 2016 Updated: December 27, 2016 at 4:20 am
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Traditional Indian spices.

As we approach the new year, it's a good time to think about adopting a healthier cuisine into your habits. The spices in Indian cooking could be just the ticket - they provide a great way to incorporate medicine into food.

Aromatic spices like ginger, turmeric, cumin and coriander - frequently found in traditional Indian dishes - have a host of beneficial properties that help protect against digestive, cardiovascular and inflammatory issues as well as some forms of cancer. It's easy to incorporate these spices into your everyday cooking. And home cooking, as we've pointed out in the past, has the added advantage of allowing you to control the sodium and fat ingredients in your meals - something not so easily done with restaurant food.

Here's a look at some health properties of these spices, from sfgate.com.

Ginger: This spice is well-known as a home remedy for digestive issues. A 2008 study published in the European Journal Gastroenterology and Hepatology found a scientific basis for ginger's benefits to the gastrointestinal tract, showing that it helps move food more quickly from the stomach into the small intestine for absorption. When you have an upset stomach, make a sipping tea by putting a slice of peeled ginger root in a cup of hot water.

Turmeric: This spice gives curry dishes their distinctive bright-yellow color. It's been used for eons as an anti- inflammatory aid. The active ingredient in turmeric is a powerful antioxidant called curcumin. The American Cancer Society notes that a number of studies have found curcumin kills cancer cells in vitro and reduces the size of tumors in animals. Research to determine its effects on humans with cancer is ongoing. Add turmeric to rice as it cooks and serve it with a stir-fry.

Cardamom: Like ginger, cardamom has been used by healers in Asian countries as a digestive aid. A 2008 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology confirmed cardamom's benefits for gastrointestinal ailments such as diarrhea, colic and constipation, and also for lowering blood pressure in laboratory animals. Combined with cinnamon, cloves and ginger, cardamom makes a delicious, good-for-you chai tea.

Coriander: This spice has been in use for at least 7,000 years, according to The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. When used fresh, it's called cilantro; when dried, the seeds are sold ground or whole. Coriander is also known as an anti-inflammatory and aids digestion. One study, published in the Journal of Environmental Biology in 2008, found that coriander seeds also lowered LDL, or "bad" cholesterol, levels in rats while also raising HDL, or "good" cholesterol.

Note that, although spices might complement other treatments, they should not be used in place of medical care for serious conditions.

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