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Spice up your diet.... Improve your health.

Spices are more powerful than you might think. Throughout history, they've lent a hand in shaping the world. The first use of spice is thought to date back to 50,000 years B.C. By the late 13th century A.D., common spices from Asia--cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, pepper and ginger root--were in hot demand in Europe. Obtaining these sought-after seasonings spurred global exploration and even led to discovery of the Americas. These days, spices add punch and flavor to food--and life.

Digestive Aids. As long as people have been using spices to season and preserve foods, they have also sought their health-giving properties. The ancient Greeks used spices as components of medicines, while people in India have used spices as digestive aids for centuries. Now, science is backing up folklore.

Researchers at the Central Food Technological Research Institute in Mysore, India, have found that typical Indian spices--cumin, coriander, ginger and others--increase the flow of digestive juices. These spices actually speed up the time it takes for food to travel through the digestive tract. This helps prevent carcinogens from spending too much time in the colon.

Cancer Preventives. Researchers at the National Cancer Institute have identified an abundance of protective phytonutrients in turmeric, ginger, coriander, cumin and fennel that alter harmful carcinogenic pathways. Ginger, cloves and pepper exert antioxidant effects; wasabi and coriander benefit critical enzymes. Curcumin and cinnamon do both. Other researchers note that some spices act as immune system stimulants.

Extracts of saffron have been shown to inhibit formation of skin, colon and soft tissue tumors in animal studies. The beneficial component comes from crocins, the water-soluble carotenoid that provides saffron's unique yellow color.

Savor the Flavor. Although promising, research findings on spices are mostly limited to animals or laboratory studies with cell cultures. As researchers tackle more human studies, the individual and synergistic effects of these potent pungent agents on health and disease will become more apparent. In the meantime, savor what exotic spices can do for your taste buds.</p> <pre> Spiced Nuts (Makes about 4 cups.) 1 teaspoon olive oil 1 pound raw almonds or walnuts 2 egg whites, lightly beaten 1/2 cup sugar 1 1/2 tablespoons five-spice powder or 2 teaspoons ground allspice mixed with 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger 1 teaspoon salt 1. Preheat oven to 300o F. Lightly grease a cookie sheet with the oil. 2. In a bowl, mix almonds with egg whites; stir to coat. Drain in a strainer. 3. In a paper bag, mix sugar with spices and salt. Add nuts and shake to coat. 4. Spread coated nuts in single layer on greased cookie sheet and roast, stirring occasionally, for 40 to 45 minutes, until golden. 5. Cool, serve. (Keeps one week tightly covered in refrigerator; indefinitely in freezer.) </pre> <p>Recipe adapted with permission from Spices of Life (Knopf/Random House, 2005).

Enjoying the Spices of Life

A gem of a new book shakes up interest in spices with recipes from around the world. A delicious and inspiring read, Spices of Life (Knopf, 2005) is part cookbook, part alternative medicine sampler. What EN likes best is the preventive health advice from experts--both conventional and alternative--that peppers each chapter.

For example, James A. Duke, Ph.D., expert ethnobotanist and author of The Green Pharmacy, details health-giving properties of spices plus offers anti-aging tips. Melanie Polk, of the American Institute for Cancer Research, offers tips to reduce the buildup of potentially cancer-causing compounds when grilling. And Harvard's Walter C. Willet, M.D., Dr.P.H., describes plant-based eating strategies, while UCLA's David Heber, M.D., Ph.D., presents his "Seven Colors of Health."

Another chapter is devoted to Ayurvedic medicine, Indian holistic healing that combines nutrition, spirituality and relaxation to balance physical and mental health.

But the star of this future classic is clearly author Nina Simonds, who presents food featuring fresh, seasonal ingredients with preventive and healing properties the experts extol. Snack on a sample recipe, left.

Storing and Caring for Spices

Have the spices in your cabinet celebrated more birthdays than your grown children? If so, you're way overdue to replace them. Spices lose their color, pungency and beneficial properties over time.

Keep ground spices no longer than six months. Whole spices (e.g., whole nutmeg, cinnamon sticks) keep indefinitely. Spices like to be kept cool, dark and dry, so don't store them over the stove or dishwasher, where steam and heat hasten their demise.

--Catherine Golub, M.S., R.D.
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Title Annotation:spices spice up your life
Author:Golub, Catherine
Publication:Environmental Nutrition
Date:Sep 1, 2005
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