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“Weigh-in” with Herbs and Spices!

A member of TOPS (Taking Off  Pounds Sensibly) asked me for advice about using herbs and spices to control optimal weight. My immediate response was the flavor and nutrition aspects of adding them to your diet. After research I found that there are some physiological factors that may help as well. We will consider all of these in this column.
First let us look at the obvious taste factor. Watching our weight involves a good balanced diet with minimum salt, sugar, and fat. Oops, there goes flavor!  It is difficult to stay on a bland diet for very long and definitely not fun!  By adding herbs and spices to your recipes you enhance not only flavor, but aroma as well. Both without CALORIES.
According to neurologist, Dr. Alan R. Hirsch some odors stimulate the part of the hypothalamus that controls appetite.  He cites a study that found people smelling peppermint when they were hungry lost weight over a six month period. These odor molecules may fool the brain into thinking more has been consumed and suppress appetite. Sniff away and enjoy the aroma of food and see what happens.      
Some culinary herbs that perk up flavor and offer aroma are basil, rosemary, savory, sage, tarragon, oregano, thyme and mints. They can be used fresh, frozen, dried or liquid (discussed in last month’s column).  They all have various nutritional benefits that we will not discuss here since they have been covered in previous columns. You can easily access my back “herb snips” columns through my Website home page. Click on the link to the Tehachapi Loop Newspaper.            
 Let us now evaluate the physiological factors that spices seem to affect. Unlike herbs, the spices we will talk about have a thermogenic effect on the body. This simply means they warm the body with substances likes capsaicin that have heat potential. According to Dr. Mercola they temporarily increase a body’s ability to burn fat (fuel). In turn it speeds up metabolism and prevents fat storage.
Tumeric contains the active ingredient curcumin which increases body heat, boosts metabolism and keeps hormones in check. Add it to your soups, stews and vegetables to help burn calories. A bit of a yellow color is an added bonus.
Cayenne is a potent warming spice. Joseph Mercola, an osteopathic physician claims it has the compound capsaicin that may trigger beneficial protein changes in the body as well as boost metabolism. Use sparingly with dressings, marinades, and eggs dishes.
Cumin is said to help burn up body fat and is one of the thermogenic ingredients in the curry powder blend included here. This blend has many of the beneficial spices we are talking about. It is no wonder curry is so healthful!  Cumin, on its own is tasty in most foods but especially stir fries, marinades, meat rubs and savory baked foods like meat pies.
Mustard is a member of the healthy cruciferous family including brussel sprouts, broccoli and cabbage. No wonder it is said to boost your metabolic rate by up to 25%. Keep in mind this is pure mustard and not prepared versions with other ingredients added.     
According to nutritionist Barbara Mendez RPH MS, ginger and cinnamon may help balance blood sugar and have a fat burning potential.  She indicates that cardamom is another thermogenic spice that is said to help boost body temperature and metabolism. She claims that black pepper has fat burning properties as well as the ability to block the formation of new fat cells.
It is obvious from their effects that the spices we have talked about are POTENT and should be used in culinary amounts only. More is not better and everyone’s tolerance of these thermogenic spices varies. A little goes a long way! This is especially true for children and those who are pregnant. Seek medical advice if you choose to use them in a medicinal and concentrated fashion.
A big thanks to Linda Carmichael for asking the question that led to this column I learned a great deal while researching. I hope you did too. You can review any of my past columns by going to my Website www.herbbasket.net. Click on the link to the Tehachapi Loop Newspaper on the home page. Weigh-in with herbs and spices and see where it takes you this month.
Recipes:

CURRY POWDER BLEND

Ingredients:

Directions
Place all ingredients in a container with an airtight lid. Shake to combine. Store in a cool dry place for up to 6 months. When ready to use, grind and add to dishes according to taste.
gs1 tsp. turmeric powder

TUMERIC CHICKEN

 Thoroughly mix the turmeric, paprika, ginger, coriander, salt and pepper.
Cut a piece of lemon rind into thin strips.
Squeeze out the lemon's juice, reserve.
Wash the chicken and cut it up into
individual portions. Rub in the spices.
Brown the chicken pieces in the oil; add
the onions and lemon peel, and then the
broth, lemon juice and raisins. Braise,
covered, for 30 min.