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Dietitians Dish: Give food an extra boost of antioxidants with spices

By Lisa Hagan
May 15, 2012 at 12:15 a.m.

Lisa Hagan

Our bodies can be inundated by many harmful environmental exposures, such as tobacco smoke, sun exposure or a high-fat meal. These exposures can cause a chemical reaction that can cause free radicals.

It is believed that too many exposures to these free radicals can cause cell or genetic damage, leaving the body susceptible to many chronic diseases including heart disease, arthritis and cancer.

Antioxidants are thought to protect the body from these harmful free radicals that can cause a wide range of problems anywhere from unwanted wrinkles to chronic diseases. Evidence shows that people who eat foods rich in antioxidants have a lower risk of developing these chronic diseases.

Dark chocolates, red wines and blueberries are some of the foods that come to mind when we talk about antioxidants. Often, we do not give much thought to the spices we add to our foods.

Not only can spices be used to reduce sodium, but they can add antioxidants. Many spices, whether fresh or dry, are rich in antioxidants. When planning a healthy meal they are worth consideration.

The top four common spices rich in antioxidants are clove, cinnamon, oregano, turmeric and ginger. These spices can be easily found in most grocery stores and with good recipes they can be incorporated into everyday meals.

Cloves have the highest count of antioxidants. A one half of a teaspoon of ground clove equals the same amount of antioxidants that are found in a one half of a cup of blueberries. Cloves can be added to baked fruits, marinades, cookies.

Cinnamon is one of the most studied spices. One teaspoon of cinnamon equals the same amount of antioxidants that are found in one cup of pomegranate juice. Add a swirl of cinnamon to hot cereals, applesauce and sweet potatoes.

Oregano is a favorite in our Italian dishes. Who would have thought that one teaspoon of dry oregano would equal the same amount of antioxidants that are found in three ounces of almonds? Try adding oregano to salads, fragrant breads, chicken or fish, as well as your favorite pizza and pasta dishes.

Turmeric is a bright yellow spice. It's the common spice in curry. One teaspoon of turmeric has as many antioxidants as one half of a cup of red grapes. Sprinkle or dissolve turmeric into vegetables, lentils, rice, meats and eggs. It is best to cook turmeric before adding it to your dishes as it can be difficult to dissolve.

Ginger is a common spice found in Asian cuisine. One teaspoon of ginger equals one cup of spinach. Consider adding ginger to stir-fried vegetables, salad dressings, fruit desserts and rice puddings.

Keep in mind that different antioxidants work in different ways. It is important to eat a variety of different spices. Include other antioxidant-rich spices, such as parsley, basil, cumin, sage, marjoram and many more.

Remember, spices are intended to enhance the flavor of foods not to overwhelm them. Your meals will be full of flavor and good for you, too.

Lisa Hagan is a registered and licensed dietitian. Send questions or comments to dietitians@vicad.com.

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