Whole Food Recipes With Added Health Benefits

by Chris 'The Kiwi' Ashenden - 5 months ago

Whole food recipes are delicious, and the variations you can create once you have the hang of a few good ones, are endless. Trust me.

To prove it, we’re sharing two of our all time favorite whole food recipes, created by Elisa Ashenden, whole food chef. You really can’t go past her Japanese Fusion Steak and Marinated Pork Tenderloin.

Before jumping straight into the recipes, it’s important to understand the role of spices. Spices aren’t just the ingredients that make things taste amazing, they all come with their own sets of impressive health benefits.

To get you off to a strong start, we’ve covered the 5 magic spices that are essential in any whole food kitchen. And we’ve broken down the scientific studies that back your excessively delicious use of them.

Whole Food Recipes: The 5 Magic Spices

“Let Thy Food Be Thy Medicine” – Hippocrates, a smart dude who wore a toga and spoke about health about 2400 years ago.

Food is FIRST.

Every time “food-science” gets a new “breakthrough” ingredient, nature continues to trump all in delivering clean, healthy, nutrition. Whole-food sourced is the only way to go, whether for food or for supplements, but then, I am biased.

Eating healthy food doesn’t have to be boring. There are magical ingredients in the world that not only make your whole food recipes delicious; they add color and fragrance, and they’re really good for you!

I have to confess, the 5 Magic Spices are actually 4 magic spices and 1 magic herb…

Four spices with vibrant red and yellow colors, all with equally impressive health properties: turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, and chili.

Cumin is technically a herb, but most folks think of it as a spice and have it in the spice cupboard, so I’m also including one fabulous herb in this post on spices, to call it five.

The science on cumin’s health benefits is at an earlier stage than the other spices, but the results look promising.

As we’re sticklers for what has been shown in well designed clinical studies, when talking these up we are sticking to the science folks.

All of these spices taste and look fantastic when added to whole food recipes. They have unique active compounds that variously act against inflammation, infection, pain, nausea, obesity, free radicals, cancer and cardiovascular disease.

They also contain essential vitamins and minerals and a massive host of natural occurring antioxidants.

If you’d like to know exactly what’s in them, check out the US Government’s national nutrient database:

Turmeric Root

Turmeric (also called ‘Indian Saffron’) grows in South and Southeast Asia. It has been part of Indian food and Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. The roots are either used fresh or dried and ground into powder.

Its scientific name is Curcuma longa and its active chemicals are the polyphenols curcumin and other curcuminoids.

Curcumin interacts with fat and muscle cells, pancreas and liver tissue, and macrophages in the immune system, helping to counteract insulin resistance and lower blood glucose and blood lipid levels.

Clinical trials show that curcumin:

  • Helped prevent the development of diabetes and improve the function of Beta-cells in the pancreas
  • Reduced symptoms such as joint tenderness in patients with rheumatoid arthritis
  • Reduced the severity of pruritus (skin itchiness)
  • Decreased heart attack associated with coronary artery bypass grafting
  • Decreased protein and blood in the urine and decreased systolic blood pressure in patients with inflammatory kidney disease
  • Improved postoperative pain and fatigue following surgical removal of the gallbladder
  • Improved the general health of patients with colorectal cancer by increasing p53 molecule expression in tumor cells, speeding up tumor cell death

Sounds good to me, let’s eat some.

Just be aware that very high doses of turmeric can increase urinary oxalate levels, increasing the risk of kidney stone formation in susceptible individuals.

Ginger Root

Ginger belongs to the same family as turmeric and has the same geographical origins and ancient Ayurvedic history.

Like turmeric, the part used for food is the root, or rhizome. Its scientific name is Zingiber officinale and its active chemicals include gingerol, shogaol, paradol, zerumbone and zingerone.

Ginger is used commonly in folk medicine to reduce nausea. Other traditional uses include digestive function, anti-inflammatory effects, a pain killer (most likely linked to any anti-inflammatory effect), and as an immune booster.

The majority of clinical trials point to ginger’s ability to assist in digestive stability and combat nausea.

Clinical trials showing variable results on ginger’s antiemetic properties suggest that its effect varies between individuals.

In clinical trials, ginger:

  • Reduced the severity of nausea induced by chemotherapy in adult cancer patients
  • Showed mixed effects on postoperative nausea across different trials
  • Showed mixed effects on morning sickness in pregnant women across different trials
  • Reduced muscle pain following exercise-induced muscle injury
  • Reduced pain scores in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee
  • Powdered and at very high doses, reduced platelet aggregation in patients with coronary heart disease (but this effect was not shown at low doses, or in other studies)

A review of clinical trials showed that ginger reduced subjective pain reports in patients with osteoarthritis, period pain, and experimentally induced acute muscle pain – the authors suggest this effect may be due to ginger’s anti-inflammatory activity.

In animal studies, ginger:

  • Protected mice against radiation-induced sickness and mortality
  • Protected normal tissues against the tumor-killing effects of radiation in mice with cancer

In vitro (outside of a living organism), ginger:

  • Inhibited the cyclooxygenase activity of platelets

Yep. Ginger is looking good, and it tastes delicious. Throw it straight in those whole food recipes. It goes with pretty much everything in my opinion.

Warning: people with heavy susceptibility to bleeding should seek medical advice before taking large amounts of ginger due to studies suggesting it may reduce platelet activity (necessary for blood clotting).

Cinnamon Bark

Cinnamon spice comes from the sweet inner bark of certain trees, originally grown in Sri Lanka, India, China, the Middle East and parts of Africa.

When dried, the bark curls into quills; it can also be powdered. In ancient times cinnamon was highly prized for its fragrance in Egypt and the Middle East and it has been used in traditional medicine in China for thousands of years.

The two most common types of cinnamon sold commercially are Cinnamomum verum, also called true cinnamon, Sri Lanka cinnamon or Ceylon cinnamon, and Cinnamomum cassia, also called cassia or Chinese cinnamon.

The active chemicals are cinnamaldehyde, cinnzeylanine, and eugenol.

Cinnamon has antibacterial effects. In clinical trials it also appears to improve blood parameters, which may help prevent/improve diabetes and aid fat loss. However some studies show no statistically significant effect on blood glucose levels.

The most consistent benefit observed across different studies is reduced fasting blood glucose.

Clinical trials show that cinnamon:

  • Improved blood glucose concentrations, fasting blood glucose, postprandial glucose response and insulin sensitivity in normal weight adults, obese adults, and patients with Type 2 Diabetes

Cinnamon is best added to DRINKS in my opinion. I love a teaspoon mixed into hot coffee, or put on top of a double espresso over ice. Serve shaken, not stirred.

Note: Don’t go totally nuts: Cassia cinnamon contains high levels (up to 1%) of coumarin, the parent compound of the anticoagulant warfarin. Very high doses of coumarin are toxic.

A tolerable daily intake is 0.1 mg/kg body weight. At 110 lbs, that would be about 5 grams of cinnamon. At 220lbs, about 10 grams of cinnamon, to be well inside the tolerable daily intake.

Chili Fruits

There are many Capsicum species, including all the familiar chilies and bell peppers and many exotic others. Examples include C. annum, C. baccatum, C. chinense, C. frutescens, C. pubescens.

Originally native to the Americas, the fruits of these plants contain varying degrees of the active chemical capsaicin and other capsaicinoids and have been used in food since ancient times.

Absolutely chock full of bioflavonoids and antioxidants, and with some interesting FAT LOSS benefits, from a medical perspective, capsicum binds to receptors on nerves that sense pain.

Clinical trials show that red chili peppers:

  • Decreased the intensity of abdominal pain and bloating in patients with irritable bowel syndrome
  • Activated brown adipose tissue in healthy men
  • Decreased blood glucose and maintained insulin levels in healthy men

A review of trials involving capsicum species and weight loss showed that chilies reduced abdominal adipose tissue levels, reduced appetite and energy intake, and increased energy expenditure.

Warning: chilies can taste HOT! as well as delicious 🙂

For those with digestive issues such as IBD and autoimmune problems this is actually a food it’s recommended you take out for a month or more, in line with a full elimination approach (you know, all that no grains, legumes, dairy stuff), then reintroduce carefully and assess tolerance.

The vast majority will have no problems whatsoever, and that is a good thing, as capsicums are YUMMY.

Cumin Seeds

Cumin is a herb belonging to the same family as fennel and caraway and the seeds are used in cooking. It is native to areas stretching from the Mediterranean to India. Its scientific name is Cuminum cyminum and the active chemicals are cuminaldehyde and polyphenols.

It is extremely rich in vitamin C. Very few clinical trials have been conducted on cumin.

Bearing in mind that animal and ‘test tube’ (in vitro) studies cannot be extrapolated in any straightforward way to human beings, I have given a snapshot of these types of studies below. It will be exciting to see clinical trials emerge on cumin.

In animal studies, cumin:

  • Improved diabetic parameters (e.g. blood glucose and insulin), lowered blood lipid profiles, reduced body weight, reduced oxidative stress, and delayed the formation of cataracts in various rat models of diabetes
  • Was a potent immunomodulator, increasing the count of T cells (CD4 and CD8) and the Th1 cytokines predominant immune response in both healthy and immunocompromised mice
  • Prevented bone loss in a rat model of postmenopausal osteoporosis
  • Attenuated seizures in mouse models of epilepsy
  • Suppressed the development of colon cancer in rats injected with a colon-specific carcinogen
  • Reduced the number of stomach tumors in a mouse model of the cancer

In studies in vitro, cumin:

  • Had a considerable inhibitory effect on a wide range of bacteria and fungi
  • Was a potent antioxidant with free radical scavenging properties
  • Reduced the survival of liver and breast cancer cells
  • Inhibited platelet aggregation

Warning: consult your doctor if you take warfarin or have bleeding conditions, as cumin may affect the clotting process.

In fact, please consult your doctor before adding new spices if you have any health conditions or take any medication. General warning: some people are allergic to certain spices.

Embrace Whole Food Recipes In Your Life

These amazing plants can not only make your life (and food) a lot more interesting, they can also help reduce inflammation and pain, improve blood sugar levels, and may have other protective effects against cardiovascular disease and tumors.

The science is still not conclusive and a lot more clinical trials are needed, but these plants have an ancient and distinguished history that we should pay attention to. And of course, they taste goooooood.

On that note, we’ve let you in on some exclusive recipes that not only capture the magic of these 5 spices, they’re also super easy!

With the whole food recipes we’ve shared in our free download below, you can already get cracking adding ginger, chili, cumin and turmeric to your diet.

For cinnamon you don’t need whole food recipes as such. I recommend a big pinch in your daily coffee – it tastes and smells amazing.