New Cooking Mantra: Spice Up Your Life For Longevity

Turning up the heat in your kitchen could add years to your life. According to a recent report,  savoring meals peppered with sizzling-hot spice just twice a week cuts the risk of an early death by 14%. (1)

In a Chinese study, researchers from Peking University and Harvard Medical School (2) tracked the diets and health of 487 375 people for seven years. They discovered that eating plenty of red-hot chilli peppers, containing a compound called capsaicin, is a great health and longevity booster.

Fortunately, for folks who aren’t crazy about red-hot peppers, plenty of other seasonings deliver significant health advantages too. By using herbs and spice instead of blood-pressure-boosting salt and waistline-expanding excess fat, you’ll multiply the effects. And you’ll even get a small nutrition bump: according to the US Department of Agriculture, natural seasonings can contribute important minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron to your diet. And we are using more herbs and spice than ever. (3)

Spice Superstars

Hot peppers top the list; they’re celebrities in cuisines from Mexico to India, Asia and beyond.

spice | Longevity LiveThe Scoville scale is used to measure their capsaicin-fuelled heat. The bhut jolokia chilli (also called the ghost pepper) is the world’s hottest*, with a Scoville rating of 1 001 304 units; easier-to-eat chillies, such as the pasilla, ancho and poblano, rate only 1 000 to 2 000; a jalapeño hits 2 500 to 5 000; and a habanero 100 000 to 350 000. Experiment with different kinds (just a touch of some, at first!) to see what suits your palate.

Other superstar spice includes garlic (we love it in stir-fries, brown rice and fresh vegetable salads) and turmeric (it’s from the curcumin plant, and makes curries and mustards yellow). Enjoy turmeric in curry powder or simply by slathering sandwiches with yellow mustard, Dr Mike’s favourite way to get more of this beneficial spice.

Spice science:
The capsaicin in chilli peppers cools inflammation, discourages cancer, protects cells and even inhibits the growth of bacteria.  (4) As for garlic, it reduces your risk for colorectal cancer and may inhibit cancers of the stomach, colon, oesophagus, pancreas and breast. No wonder the World Health Organization suggests having a clove a day! Curcumin also may cool inflammation and discourage cancer, and it shows some promise against Alzheimer’s disease. (5)

Tasty Green Herbs:

honey immune boosterAdd basil, mint, oregano and/or rosemary to sauces, soups, stews and marinades. But don’t stop there. How about mint or fresh basil in your next fruit salad? Add oregano and rosemary to a little olive oil (with garlic, too!) and drizzle on veggies or over warm white or red beans. Or brew fresh mint tea by steeping leaves in just-boiled water.

Spice science:
Flavonoids in basil, such as orientin and vicenin, help to protect cells from damage, while this herb’s volatile oils (they give basil its irresistible scent and flavour) discourage the growth of bacteria. (6)

Marinades containing basil, oregano and/or rosemary reduce levels of cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines in grilled meats. Tasty compounds in peppermint, such as menthol and menthone, also guard cells and have antiviral and antibacterial talents.

Cosy and Comforting:

Try cinnamon in your next cup of coffee, over oatmeal, even in salad dressing. Add a dash of ground nutmeg (a little goes a long way) to whole-grain muffin recipes, along with cinnamon. Store fresh ginger root in the freezer; grate a little into salad dressings; add to stir-fries, sprinkle over sautéed kale, baked squash, or even salmon or chicken before grilling. For a soothing hot drink, steep a little freshly grated ginger in just-boiled water; add a spritz of fresh lemon and sip.

Flavour science:
Ginger is packed with inflammation-cooling compounds called gingerols that may discourage the development of colorectal cancer. (7) Cinnamon can help to lower blood sugar, several studies show. Nutmeg has anti-inflammatory effects. (8)

So be bold. Remember, whatever spice you try, there seems to be a benefit.

*hotter chillies have been ranked on the Scoville scale since the publishing of this article. (9)