Staying Healthy: 5 Spices Runners Should Start Using
We are all aware that spices make food taste good. But we might not be aware of all the health benefits that spice have! Spices that contain anti-inflammatory and antioxidants are especially beneficial for staying healthy. Running is definitely healthy, but it doesn’t make you immune to every disease. Spicing up your diet is an easy and fun way to sneak in some powerful health agents. Below are just 5 of many spices that you should try using!
Turmeric used to be difficult to find in North America but now it is in almost every food store. It has over 50 medicinal uses from curing cancer to clearing skin blemishes so it’s no wonder why it gained popularity. Turmeric comes from a root and it is most commonly found in powdered form. It is ground to a distinctive bright yellowish-orange powder that is sometimes likened to saffron though they have nothing in common but their color. The main property of turmeric that makes it so miraculous is that it contains an antioxidant chemical compound called curcumin (not to be confused with cumin). Antioxidants are used to fight against free radicals/inflammatory diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, arthritis, cancer, IBS, and diabetes. India attributes their low incidence of these diseases to their large consumption of spices including turmeric. There are many ways to use turmeric in your diet. It is already in mustard which is why it is yellow! I like to make myself “turmeric lemonade”. I mix one teaspoon of turmeric with juice from half a squeezed lemon and some ginger (and honey if I’m feeling sweet). If you enjoy curries, turmeric is a main ingredient in curry spices. Add some to scrambled eggs to give them an intense yellow color. Try spicing vegetables with turmeric and black pepper, spices that go well together in taste and functionally!
If you are ever in Bend, Oregon, stop at the Sparrow Bakery and order an Ocean Roll. The way I perceived cardamom completely changed after I ate one. Cardamom is used in India as “nature’s toothbrush”. Its sweet minty anise flavor naturally cleans your teeth and freshens your breath. It contains over 25 volatile oils. These oils are important for maintaining the flavor and medicinal properties of cardamom so it is recommended that you use whole cardamom seeds or pods instead of ground cardamom. Cardamom has been used to treat sinus infections and asthma because the volatile oils coat the linings in your respiratory system to allow more airflow. It also calms the gut by activating the parasympathetic system. I didn’t know any of this when I ate the Ocean Roll and I thought it was the spice everything was missing. You can use it to flavor coffee. Pour hot coffee over a pod of cardamom seeds and steep for a few minutes to get a unique cup of morning coffee that energizes you and clears your sinuses. You can also put some whole seeds in a French press or freshly grind a few seeds with coffee beans to brew together if you don’t have a pod of cardamom. Seeds are commonly added to the pot when cooking rice in India. Cardamom goes very well with desserts and sweets (as you can tell by my Ocean Roll obsession). Use seeds when baking bread, cakes, or pastries. You can even make cardamom pudding! Try sprinkling some seeds on grapefruit or fruit desserts for a fresh after-meal taste.
If you have ever had the Vietnamese dish called pho or had chai tea, you have experienced the power of star anise. It beckons you with its aesthetically beautiful star shape and its sweet licorice aroma. Star anise has been used in medicine for years as a fighter against asthma, the flu, arthritis, and digestive issues. The star itself isn’t edible but it can be put in dishes for flavoring. Try putting it in your next crock pot meal, soup, or anything that requires extended cooking time. If you want to try switching up your coffee routine, try steeping it in hot almond milk with cardamom for a homemade masala chai latte. It will soothe your stomach and give you an energy kick.
Please take what you’re about to read with a grain of salt. OK now that that’s out of the way, I know salt is not uncommon. But it might be uncommon to hear that you should use it! People are so afraid of sodium that they go overboard in limiting their intake. Contrary to popular belief, salt isn’t bad for you. Too much salt is bad, but too much of anything is bad! Runners need salt. Nearly all of our metabolic processes, including the ones that keep our muscles functioning, are dependent on sodium. Salt is excreted in sweat and urine so we need to replace it. Only if you eat a lot of processed foods, which are loaded with sodium, you might need to worry about your sodium intake. But if you eat naturally, don’t be afraid to add salt! The good thing about salt is that it goes with almost anything. I like to sprinkle it on eggs with black pepper and cayenne. To bring out the sweetness, sprinkle it on fruit like watermelon or grapefruit. I put a teaspoon in when I make a batch of dark chocolate granola. You will see it used in many recipes for energy bars and protein bars. It’s so important to replace salt in our body when we are exercising that we have created salt tablets for runners much like salt licks for horses. So the next time your food is missing something, before you empty out your spice cabinet, don’t forget about good ol’ table salt. Or pink Himalayan salt. Or sea salt. Whatever floats your boat!
Parsley is easily spotted at most grocery stores (unless you get it confused with cilantro all the time like me). But considering its powerful anti-inflammatory properties, it is not used as much as it should be. Parsley is rich with antioxidants and vitamins A and C. I prefer fresh parsley because its flavor and color are more intense but dry parsley works better for extended cooking. Try putting some fresh parsley leaves in your next green smoothie, in an omelet, or as garnish for anything! My favorite way to maximize my parsley intake is tabouli. It is a Mediterranean salad dish with bulgur wheat, chopped onions, tomatoes, and a lot of parsley. Once you start incorporating parsley into your diet, you can’t live without it!
*Mainly sourced from from Healing Spices: How to Use 50 Everyday and Exotic Spices to Boost Health and Beat Disease, Bharat B. Aggarwal, PhD.
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