While I am not a fan of super hot dishes (unpleasant memory of habanero burger in San Mateo, CA comes to mind), I do like a little spice. As I’ve gotten more comfortable in the kitchen, I’ve also been more willing to experiment with culinary traditions that I would have left to restaurant chefs in the past. Well it seems that researchers at Penn State (a little alma mater high five) would tell me to keep it up. Add that spice and you just may lower your risk for heart disease and a couple of other nasties, including one of our other national favorites, diabetes. The spices studied – turmeric, oregano, paprika, rosemary and ginger- lowered the level of triglycerides (a kind of fat) in the blood (yeah, that’s gross) by about a third and lowered insulin levels by 20%. Apparently the researchers found these results even with high fat meals. Wow.
What does this mean for the standard American diet? It is unhealthy in a variety of ways, not the least of which is that much of its zing comes from salt. The extremely high level of fats in many American foods is not countered by the benefit of these magical little spicy devils. It’s unclear from the research at this point whether the spice creates a lasting impact on triglyceride and insulin levels, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that even a temporary dip in those numbers is a good thing…. and the nice thing about meals is that there’s always another one around the corner, three chances to lower those numbers a day.
You say you’re not a curry fan? I say that’s impossible. Curries are a flavor family, which is to say that there are many, many different kinds of curries. There are whole cookbooks that are just about curries – like Rhagavan Iyer’s ; with 660 options it’s like a triglyceride lowering bonanza. One of our family favorites is Mulligatawny soup (also Kramer’s favorite in Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi Episode). The point is there are many different kinds of curries and, provided they have turmeric in them, they could well be beneficial to your heart, your blood, and your health.
OK, I won’t get hung up on the curry – oregano and rosemary are on that list too. Staples of Italian cooking and great additions to many, many dishes. Got some tilapia fillets? Olive oil, lemon, salt, pepper, generous oregano sprinkle, bake. Voila, fantabulous fish. Craving steak? Salt, pepper, rosemary all over. Cut some of that beef fat with that delicious little twig. Do a quick internet search on either herb and you will come up with SO many options it will make your flavor-craving heart spin. Do yourself a real favor the next time you’re at the hardware store, garden center, or heck even the grocery store and buy yourself a little live rosemary or oregano. Pop that bad boy in the ground and you’ve got some heart help just a few steps away. Added benefit: it just smells good out there.
So what are you waiting for? Maybe it’s not the food your Mom used to make; doesn’t mean it’s not good. You say you tried before; have you tried recently? Your body is begging you to give spice a chance. Until next time, may your meals be flavorful and your health be spicy!