Healthy Spicy Food
Chili peppers are actually fruit, not vegetables, and provide three times more vitamin C than oranges. The unique chili pepper heat comes from a component called capsaicin, which is concentrated in the white ribs and seeds inside. To lessen the pungency, the seeds can be discarded.
Different types of chili pepper have different amounts of heat, with one of the hottest being the small, red and very slender “bird’s eye” variety. All chili peppers induce the body to sweat, and this cooling mechanism explains the popularity of chilies in hot climates.
Interestingly, doctors sometimes recommend capsaicin to relieve nerve pain. Applied topically it can counteract the pain of shingles and the degenerative nerve damage experienced by some people with diabetes, although the active ingredients may inflict a dose of famous chili bum before switching off the pain. That’s why it’s important not to home-administer a chili poultice, or to rub your eyes whilst handling the spice, or afterward until you have washed your hands.
It’s commonly thought that chilies can cause or worsen stomach ulcers, but studies in countries in which many people eat chili show that there are fewer cases of peptic ulcer. Doctors often advise patients with dyspepsia and peptic ulcer against eating chili, although some studies show that capsaicin can protect the stomach lining.
This doesn’t mean that everybody who has stomach problems should eat chili, because everyone has a different response to spicy foods and some people may find chili makes matters worse. What it does mean is that chili lovers don’t have to worry about continuing to feed their hot and spicy passion, as long as this doesn’t upset their stomach.
Ginger As A Remedy And A Spice
Consumed regularly, ginger helps warm the body, promote good digestion and keep the blood clot free. In Chinese medicine it is the fifth most frequently used remedy and is credited with ‘unlocking channels and waking up tired organs’. It sounds far fetched, but experiments confirm that substances in ginger help expand the blood vessels, thus improving circulation. All types of ginger are believed to be beneficial, including the fresh root, preserved or crystallized ginger, and the powdered spice.
Herbalists often recommend ginger in the ‘shivery’ stages of infection to promote a fever and hasten healing. If you feel a cold coming on, try drinking a teaspoon of fresh grated ginger, with honey, in hot water. Ginger can also help relieve rheumatic aches and pains. In one study, 25 g of ginger a day significantly helped some sufferers. Ginger is also famed for its unique effect on the digestion. The active ingredients, gingerols, calm the stomach, and ginger is a proven remedy for nausea. Chewing a piece of ginger root or crystallized ginger can ease motion sickness. Ginger can reduce pregnancy sickness, and can safely be eaten throughout pregnancy.
Whilst most spices can be good for you, nutmeg can actually be dangerous in high amounts. It contains a hallucinogen called myristicin and whilst a small grating is not harmful, as little as two whole nutmegs could cause death. You have been warned!
Scientists have been studying capsicum for decades and realize the weight loss potential of this red hot pepper. They have proven that capsicum extract can burn calories, reduces appetite, increases metabolism, reduces body fat and body mass.
Other Healthy Spices
- Makes a powerfully hot sauce as a traditional accompaniment to roast beef or add to natural yogurt and serve with smoked fish.
- Acts as a mild diuretic (increasing urine flow). Believed to help relieve gout, arthritis, urinary and respiratory infections.
- An ingredient in curry powders, as well as a flavoring in cakes, breads and biscuits.
- Chewing caraway seeds can relieve indigestion and menstrual cramps.
- Adds color to curry powders and a subtle flavor to rice pilafs.
- Believed to be good for digestive upsets and liver disorders. Research indicates it may help suppress cancer.
- Used as a flavoring in baking, desserts and certain chicken and ham dishes.
- Helps relieve stomach upsets, colds and flu. Try adding a pinch to a honey and lemon drink to sooth a sore throat.
- Used in the Indian cooking spice mixture garam masala and also added as a flavoring to fruit pies and punches.
- For toothache, apply clove oil to the affected area, or clamp to a whole clove between your teeth.
- Black or white pepper adds zest to most savoury dishes and tastes remarkably good with strawberries and other fruit too.
- Traditionally used to stimulate the digestive juices and relieve bronchial congestion.
Spice Up Your Life
Although spicy food originates from hot countries and is traditionally eaten to induce sweating, it can be particularly cheering, as well as warming, on cold winter days. Try some of these recipes:
- Curried Pumpkin Soup
- Tandoori Chicken Breasts
- Spicy Fish Cakes
To make a Mustard Marinade for chicken, mix together 2 tbsp Dijon mustard, 2 tbsp wholegrain mustard, 50 ml apple juice and 50 ml cider vinegar. Allow meat to sit in marinade for at least 2 hours, then place under a hot grill or barbecue until cooled.
For a spicy tomato sauce for pasta, heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large saucepan. Add 1 finely chopped onion, 1 crushed garlic clove, 1 finely chopped red chili (discard the seeds) and cook for 5 minutes or until the onions are beginning to soften. Stir in ½ tsp ground coriander, ½ tsp ground cumin and 1 tbsp tomato puree, and continue to cook for a further 2 to 3 minutes. Add two 400 g cans of chopped tomatoes, 150 ml red wine, salt and pepper to taste. Bring to the boil, then simmer for about 30 minutes or until the sauce is reduced by about half.