The Importance of Consistency: Spices

According to statistics, including those supplied by various organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) there is a lower incidence of cancer occurring in several countries including India, Thialand, several countries in West and Central Africa, Oman, and Yeman. Some of these countries also overlap with Blue Zone countries where life expectancy is some of the longest on the planet. So why, what's are some of the keys involved in such low cancer numbers. I have been curious about this for at least the past twenty years. While many factors contribute, my interest has mostly focused on food, of course, because that's where my passion lays. This question came up again for me recently when my oldest daughter returned from a trip to Brazil where she was doing some short term teaching in a Favela. Favelas are spontaneous neighborhoods that are created as a result of people either being displaced, or not being able to afford rents. Government oversight doesn't often exist. These areas create their own culture, neighborhoods and communities.

She traveled to Rio de Janeiro and stayed for almost a month teaching. Meals and lodging were in the favela. She mostly ate dinner or lunch at local small restaurants and these consisted of beans, rice and vegetables. She told me she ate plenty of avocados, mangoes, acai and other fruit of the region. When she came home, her sister and I noticed immediately that she smelled like her (their) father (my ex husband). As the days rolled on, even up to a week, we still noticed that she had a certain pleasant smell to her. It was all about the spices used in the foods that she was consuming day to day.

This jogged memory of when I initially arrived in Senegal West Africa many years ago. I was struck with how deeply ore red the earth was. It was as if sunsets saturated the earth. The next thing I noted was a distinct smell of roasted corn, and of musky spices that lingered in the heavy and humid air. Later I would come to understand that some smells were those of coconut and palm oil saturated with spices.

In each of these countries, as well as several of the other countries listed above meals are consistently prepared using spices. Thyme, pepper, oregano, ginger, cumin, coriander, ginger, garlic, tumeric, cinnamon, pepper to name a few. Many of you will note that some of these spices are sometimes prescribed as supplements: tumeric, garlic, and cinnamon, but there is something to the consistent use of spices in our diets. Food contains culinary amounts of nutrients which our body can absorb well, and effectively, and in many, many cases better than supplements. When spices and food are prepared slowly (as opposed to quick fix and go or fast food/even healthy fast food) the spices and their active constituents are more available for absorption. For example, tumeric contains the active constituent curcumin. Curcumin is a powerful anti oxidant and has been shown to have anti tumor and in particular liver protecting effects. In order for the body to absorb the curcumin it needs fat and a carrier. Traditional meals prepared with tumeric spice include pepper and coconut milk. There are many other examples of how traditional food is made that benefits absorption of nutrients. But not only is the chemistry of preparation important, it is also the consistency of ingestion. In these countries they are eating foods prepared with spices every day.

One of the factors involved in decreasing the risk of cancer or cancer reoccurrence is the use of spices in our diets. Pay attention to how often you are using spices in your cooking and what spices you are using. It is well worth it to include garlic, tumeric, ginger, pepper and even rosemary in prepared dishes. Consistently.

It is quite easy and affordable to create a flower pot garden and grow herbs, or even a window sill herb garden. Start with two herbs and expand from there. Enjoy your spices. Here's to good health!