Spice it up

Lately, I’ve been in a food rut; going back to the same recipes time and time again. Then I read an article in the summer issue of the American Institute for Cancer Research (available at aicr.org under publications tab Science Now) called The Spices of Cancer Protection. Herbs and spices have long been known to have plant compounds called phytochemicals similar to those found in fruits and vegetables. Scientists have been trying to unlock the cancer protective effects of phytochemicals and they are discovering that certain spices have potent anti-cancer effects; well, at least in the lab. It is too early to swallow tablespoons of  the stuff out of your spice rack, but it is never too early to learn how to use these spices in cooking for many reasons. Using spices can help you replace sodium, impart flavor without fat, and wake up your palate to new flavors.

The spices being studied for cancer protection include allspice, cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, and black pepper. Garlic, although not a spice, is also included as we tend to use garlic as a seasoning (unless you trying to ward off vampires and then it becomes costume jewelry.)  The ways in which spices fight cancer are many and range from repairing DNA, reducing inflammation, regulating hormones, and altering cancer cell metabolism. Not all spices have the same effects so for now it is a good idea to include a wide variety of spices in your diet.

But, getting back to my food rut…how to overcome it? That is where a cool online tool from McCormick comes in (I have no relationship with the company and learned about it at a presentation at The Culinary Institute of America). McCormick has launched “Flavor Print” (accessed from McCormick website at mccormick.com/flavor print) an online tool based on sensory science that “reads your palate” to discover your personal flavor print. I started by rating foods that I liked; a thumbs up or thumbs down task. I rated everything from my like or dislike of hoppy beer (dislike), arugula (like), and pfeffernuse cookies (dislike). After rating a bunch of foods, my flavor print appeared. Turns out, I’m cheesey, garlic and onionish, and coffee and chocolatey. Next, I rated by cooking preferences (I’ve never deep-fried but I love to grill) and went to the recipe section to find matches to my flavor print. Based on my palate, I found several mouth- watering recipes like Slow Cooker Italian Beef (89% match), Almond and Date Bulgar Salad with Sofrito (88% match), and Grilled Chicken and Blueberry Pasta Salad (88% match). Fair warning, this online exercise will make your hungry!

I think this tool could break me out of my food rut and help me include more cancer-fighting spices in my diet. My 80-something year old mother-in-law will be spending some time with me and as many seniors do, she complains she has little appetite. I think the first thing we’ll do is her Flavor Print and then head to the grocery store!

Peanuts and Baseball

“Take me out to the ballgame….buy me some peanuts….”

Baseball and peanuts are a natural combination and with baseball season right around the corner it got me thinking about peanuts (that, and the fact that I live in Georgia!) But, peanuts don’t seem to get the love like the tree nuts almonds, walnuts, pecans and pistachios. I love all of the tree nuts, but the humble legume, the peanut, should also be celebrated for its nutritional content and health benefits. So, here are all the reasons you should eat peanuts:

  • Peanuts are a protein powerhouse with 7 grams of protein per 1-ounce serving (that is about 40 pieces from a jar of peanuts) and that is the same amount of protein found in one egg. Peanuts are rich in the amino acid arginine which is a precursor to a potent compound that relaxes blood vessels to help keep the blood flowing and lower blood pressure.
  • Peanuts are not high in sodium contrary to what you might think. Roasted unsalted peanuts have only 5 milligrams of sodium per ounce and roasted salted nuts have 230 mg so a serving of salted nuts can easily fit into a diet with a heart healthy 2300 mg of sodium per day.
  • Research has shown that frequent nut eaters have lower lipid levels than those who don’t eat nuts. Eating peanuts lowers your risk of heart disease. Peanuts also reduce inflammation; a condition that can set the stage for heart disease and other chronic diseases.
  • Peanuts are high in the mineral magnesium; a nutrient in short supply for many Americans.
  • Peanuts are also high in two plant nutrients (phytonutrients) beta-sitosterol and resveratrol and both are tied to reducing cancer risk.
  • Lastly, peanuts have a low glycemic index (GI) helping to keep your blood sugar level in a healthy range.

Peanuts, like all nuts, are high in calories and fat. The fats in peanuts are “good” kinds of fat (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) but all fats have 9 calories/gram so keep your portion sizes in check. Share your bag of peanuts at the baseball with your family and friends!

Enjoy baseball and enjoy peanuts this season.