Ciara Mickle – Nutritionist (BSc. Nutrition and Food Science)
Ciara Mickle – Nutritionist (BSc. Nutrition and Food Science)
In recent decades there has been increasing recognition of the health benefits of a more plant-based diet and its protective effect against chronic illnesses. A plant-based diet is one that contains mostly foods from plant sources. This includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, legumes and beans, as well as herbs and spices.
Spices are defined as the dried parts of certain plants. They can be derived from many parts of a plant; such as seeds, bark, root, buds, leaves, fruits or rhizomes. Spices not only add distinctive flavour and aroma to foods and drinks but they have also traditionally been used for their spiritual and healing properties.
Turmeric Direct’s Latte blend contains the spices turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and black pepper. While spices typically provide little in terms of nutritional value, they are rich in phytochemicals such as polyphenols and terpenes (“Phyto” meaning plant). These compounds have a variety of health-promoting effects on the body.
Antioxidants are compounds that fight against substances called free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that cause oxidative damage to our cells. Oxidative stress is implicated in many chronic diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. Thus, there is growing evidence to recommend the inclusion of more antioxidants in the diet. Phytochemicals exhibit strong antioxidative effects.
Inflammation is our body’s immune response to a foreign substance that can help us heal from injury and illness. However, sometimes inflammation doesn’t always help the body. Chronic inflammation has been identified as the primary contributor to developing many diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. Phytochemicals can inhibit inflammatory processes in the body, and thus their consumption can reduce chronic disease risk.
An antimicrobial agent is a substance that can kill or inhibit the growth of microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, algae, yeasts and toxins. These substances are essential for preventing and treating illnesses and maintaining good health. The intake of phytochemicals has been shown to inhibit specific pathogens.
Turmeric is well known for its medicinal properties and is an excellent source of polyphenol called curcumin (the stuff makes Turmeric bright orange!). Curcumin is shown to help manage inflammatory and oxidative conditions such as metabolic syndrome/diabetes, arthritis, pain, kidney disease, degenerative eye conditions and hyperlipidaemia. It also has anti-cancer and antimutagenic properties, with it being shown to suppress the development of tumours in the stomach, lung, breast and skin. The benefits do not stop there. Turmeric also possesses antimicrobial properties and can help fight off the common cold, and in addition to this, it is also known to help sufferers of anxiety.
Low doses of curcumin can even be beneficial to people without diagnosed health conditions. Clinical trials have shown reductions in markers of atherosclerosis, stress, brain aging, liver injury, and cholesterol levels following small amounts of curcumin (added to a healthy and balanced diet). It can also lead to improved sustained attention, memory, and mood. Turmeric may also help exercise-induced muscle soreness, improving recovery and performance in athletes.
However, consuming curcumin on its own in pure form has not been shown to provide the same effects. This is due to the compound’s poor bioavailability, which means that it is poorly absorbed in the gut and quickly broken down and eliminated from the body. Consuming turmeric in combination with black pepper can help to improve the bioavailability of curcumin. (Good news, our Turmeric Latte mix has black pepper and more – so keep reading for more of the benefits!)
Nutmeg is rich in essential oils that contain various terpenes that give the spice its distinctive smell. Due to the presence of terpenes, such as beta-caryophyllene, nutmeg possesses such high antioxidant activity. Nutmeg oils have long been used in dentistry to help soothe toothaches and massage therapy to relieve rheumatic and muscular pain.
Nutmeg is also a traditional remedy for stomach and kidney disorders. The spice has been shown to help improve digestive function and gut health due to its high fibre content. It is known to provide relief to those suffering gastritis/inflammation, nausea, indigestion, flatulence and stomach ache. It also offers antimicrobial effects and can help protect against bacteria and fungi. Nutmeg is also beneficial to the central nervous system, having brain soothing and antidepressant effects.
Cinnamon is one of the most widely used and versatile spices. It is consumed in various cuisines from sweet to savoury foods, teas, breakfast cereals, snacks and traditional dishes. In addition to cooking, it is also used in traditional medicines with potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Cinnamon is a source of vital oils and other derivatives, such as polyphenols and terpenes. The primary active component in cinnamon is a phenolic compound called cinnamaldehyde, which contributes to the unique fragrance of the spice.
Cinnamon provides nutritional value to the diet, being a good source of manganese, iron, dietary fibre, and calcium. The presence of terpenes makes cinnamon beneficial in the treatment and prevention of colds, sinus congestion, bronchitis and digestive disorders. It can also help control sweating and is reported to have a protective effect against neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Cinnamon has also been traditionally used as a tooth powder to treat toothaches, dental problems, oral bacteria, and bad breath. Cinnamon is also beneficial to colon health and has reduced the risk of colon cancer.
Many studies have illustrated the benefits of cinnamaldehyde to heart health as it possesses hypotensive, lipid-lowering and anti-diabetic properties. Several studies have demonstrated that regular cinnamon consumption causes a reduction in blood pressure, blood glucose, total cholesterol, and harmful cholesterol levels and, therefore, can prevent and treat cardiovascular diseases. Cinnamon is also a coagulant and can prevent bleeding.
Ginger contains several phytochemicals and bioactive components and has been used for thousands of years to treat many ailments. Consuming ginger is shown to increase the body’s antioxidant status and is reported to decrease age-related oxidative stress markers. Consumption of this spice is beneficial for cardiovascular health as it is known to help lower cholesterol and blood pressure/hypertension.
Ginger possesses anticarcinogenic properties due to the phenolic compounds gingerol and paradol. This effect is specifically relevant in the prevention of colon cancer. Ginger and its constituents appear to accumulate in the gastrointestinal tract, so it comes as no surprise that ginger exerts many of its health effects in this area of the body. The most common and well-established use of ginger throughout history is its use as an antiemetic. This effect results from a terpene named Zingiberene, which helps alleviate digestive problems and the symptoms of nausea and vomiting. This is of benefit to those undergoing chemotherapy or suffering from motion/seasickness, as well as pregnant women experiencing morning sickness.
Ginger is also a natural anti-inflammatory . It helps manage arthritis, migraine, swelling, and joint pain. It has been known to be as effective as the anti-inflammatory drug ibuprofen (400 mg) in relieving menstrual cramping and pain.
The phytochemicals in ginger help keep the immune system strong – One such component, a terpene called Geraniol, possesses antibacterial and antifungal properties and is responsible for the pleasant fragrance of ginger. This spice plays a role in respiratory health and can alleviate cold, cough, wheezing, and asthma symptoms.
Black pepper is commonly known as the “King of Spices” because it is the most widely used spice globally. However, black pepper is more than just a kitchen staple.
Pepper contains a wide range of phytochemicals that give the spice its strong anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antimicrobial activities. The primary active compound in black pepper is a phytochemical called piperine – a powerful antioxidant. When combined with curcumin (from turmeric), piperine helps to increase the bioavailability of curcumin by 2000% (WOW!).
Combinations of black pepper and dried ginger have also been found to be of great value against rheumatoid arthritis. Black pepper helps with immunity and plays a role in antitumor activities. Studies have suggested it can also suppress breast and prostate cancer cells. It exhibits anti-depression-like properties and cognitive enhancing abilities. Cardioprotective properties have also been noted, with piperine showing blood pressure lowering effects.
Chronic diseases are among the world’s leading causes of death. However, they are largely preventable. Diet is one of the most important modifiable risk factors in developing such diseases. Certain dietary factors may increase disease risk, while others can have a preventative effect. Spices are a great way to add flavour and aroma to our foods and beverages, thus reducing our reliance on large amounts of sugar and salt, which is not great for our health. Spices are rich in phytochemicals, which gives them powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties. The consumption of more plant foods, such as spices, is a valuable means of promoting health and protecting against chronic disease.