Friday, November 02, 2007

Spice and Health

One day during our vacation we were walking and Tuffy P noticed some plants on trees and I said, those are epiphytes...where upon a little teasing occured, how do I know that and a fake microphone was passed my way. Apparently my twenty odd years of ranting about how we grow food, the advantages of hunter gatherer lifestyle over totalitarian agriculture hadn't clued my pals into the fact that I am obsessed with food and humans relationships to plants...ethnobotony.

I am fond of epiphytes because they are plants that often become room-mates, sort of squatters, of other plants and they live basically without soil. Epiphyte means "on plants" and they survive by photosynthesis alone. I think of them as kind of like a spice on a major tree. By living up on another plant they do not have to compete with ground dwelling plants. I love the way plants adapt to environments and I love the relationship of people to plants.

So many plants develop attributes and traits to protect them from competition or predators and sometimes those very traits become what predators enjoy about the plant. Spices and marajuana are good examples of this ironic development between humans and plants. Marajuana (and heroin) adapted with poison to allow them to survive by repulsing predators, but that very poison has also made them become cultivated plants by humans. Spices are hot to ward off predators, but it turns out, humans like spice!

And spice is good for us!

So...I dedicate todays food post to Tuffy P and Mister Anchovy who both love spicy food! I do too...actually, it was through planning my menues for the coming week focused on Indian food that I thought I might try to post some info about health benefits to building immune systems and fighting detrimental aspects of aging.

I am crazy about Indian food...and since the weather has changed I've been l making a list of curry recipes and items for the grocery store.

TUMERIC: Ground from a root plant tumeric is a spice found in curry and is coming to be associated with anti-aging. It's active constituent is curcumin and research is supporting it's huge health benenfits: including anti-inflamatory, fights dementia and alzheimers disease, a liver carcinogenic cleansing agent...part of the research came about because India has the longest life statistics.

The pepper family can fight cardivascular disease, joint pain, cell damage and provide antioxidants. Pepper rich diets also ward off several cancers including colon, lung and cervical cancer. Vegetables with bright colours like pumpkins, squash, and red peppers are some of the highest sources of Vitamin A. Red peppers are part of the deadly nightshade family like tomatoes, eggplant and potatoes.

Spicy peppers contain capsacain. Capsaicin is being studied as an effective treatment for sensory nerve fiber disorders, including pain associated with arthritis, psoriasis, and diabetic neuropathy. When animals injected with a substance that causes inflammatory arthritis were fed a diet that contained capsaicin, they had delayed onset of arthritis, and also significantly reduced paw inflammation.

Chiles are popularly believed to be a mood enhancer because they increase the production of endorphins. This proposition lacks clinical data; if you eat a hot chili, however, you'll experience moments of heightened awareness.

Health Benefits: Capsaicin is a fast-acting vasodilator that widens the blood vessels. This enhances blood circulation and therefore increases body temperature. The quick temperature rise causes perspiration, which cools the body back down. The pungent flavor of chiles tonifies the spleen-pancreas, stomach, colon, lung, and heart meridians. They stimulate the digestive system. They have antioxidant properties that help preserve and detoxify food. Capsaicin often aids people with chronic bronchial problems. It protects against some chemical carcinogens and mutagens. Chiles warm and disperse cold, dry, and overly damp conditions and so treat colds, fevers, varicose veins, and asthma. Externally, capsaicin in an ointment relieves arthritis, shingles, nueralgia, and pleurisy (even though initially as the pain is drawn up and out, it may exacerbate the pain). Chiles are not recommended for anyone with an inflamed colon. Green chiles are a superior source of vitamins C and red chiles a good source of vitamin A. Both also contain potassium and folic acid. They also contain fiber and iron. They are extremely low in calories.

Many plants have adapted special qualities that help themselves protect themselves from disease...but they can protect humans as well. These qualities in plants are called phytochemicals and they are non-nutritive to humans which means we can live without them...but they are good for us because they help protect us against disease, lowered immune systems and bacteria.

Some fantastic food sources of phytochemicals are soy beans, cranberries, cauliflower, brocoli, garlic and many spices especially chilies and tumeric.

Antioxidant - Most phytochemicals have antioxidant activity and protect our cells against oxidative damage and reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer. Phytochemicals with antioxidant activity: allyl sulfides (onions, leeks, garlic), carotenoids (fruits, carrots), flavonoids (fruits, vegetables), polyphenols (tea, grapes).

Hormonal action - Isoflavones, found in soy, imitate human estrogens and help to reduce menopausal symptoms and osteoporosis.

Stimulation of enzymes - Indoles, which are found in cabbages, stimulate enzymes that make the estrogen less effective and could reduce the risk for breast cancer. Other phytochemicals, which interfere with enzymes, are protease inhibitors (soy and beans), terpenes (citrus fruits and cherries)

Interference with DNA replication - Saponins found in beans interfere with the replication of cell DNA, thereby preventing the multiplication of cancer cells. Capsaicin, found in hot peppers, protects DNA from carcinogens.

Anti-bacterial effect - The phytochemical allicin from garlic has anti-bacterial properties.

Physical action - Some phytochemicals bind physically to cell walls thereby preventing the adhesion of pathogens to human cell walls. Proanthocyanidins are responsible for the anti-adhesion properties of cranberry. Consumption of cranberries will reduce the risk of urinary tract infections and will improve dental health.

SPICE: Spicing your meals with chili peppers may also protect the fats in your blood from damage by free radicals—a first step in the development of atherosclerosis. In a randomized, crossover study involving 27 healthy subjects (14 women, 13 men), eating freshly chopped chili was found to increase the resistance of blood fats, such as cholesterol and triglycerides, to oxidation (free radical injury).

Subjects were randomly divided into 2 groups. For 4 weeks, half the subjects ate a freshly chopped chili blend (30 grams/day, about 1 ounce), consisting of 55% cayenne, while the other half consumed a bland diet (no chili). After 4 weeks, the groups were crossed over for another 4 weeks. During the intervention periods, consumption of other spices such as cinnamon, ginger, garlic, and mustard was restricted. Blood samples were obtained at the beginning of the study and after each dietary period.

After eating the chili-containing diet, the rate of oxidation (free radical damage to cholesterol and triglycerides) was significantly lower in both men and women than that seen after eating the bland diet.

In addition, after eating the chili-spiced diet, women had a longer lag time before any damage to cholesterol was seen compared to the lag time seen after eating the bland diet. In men, the chili-diet also lowered resting heart rate and increased the amount of blood reaching the heart.

Double whammy benefits, a recipe with both tumeric and squash!

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