October is recognized as Breast Cancer Awareness month at a national level throughout the country, and nearly all of us have been touched by cancer in a very personal way, thorough loved ones, our colleagues or as one of our own health challenges. No matter our experience, we all can appreciate the suffering and need not miss an opportunity to keep all of our cells healthy and resilient. Back in graduate school, I remember one of my professors explaining research that showed each of our cells can be insulted with cancer causing agents (called carcinogens) up to 10,000 times each day and that the likelihood that someone would be diagnosed with cancer was related to how well the immune system handled damage to our DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). Each of our trillions of cells contains DNA, which acts like a little instruction manual to help make proteins in the body and new cells. When you stand near someone who is smoking, sit in traffic and inhale exhaust fumes, eat a slice of pizza or scoop of ice cream laced with dioxin or a piece of chicken containing arsenic, this precious DNA can be damaged and the immune system must act quickly to make repairs. However, when we choose to eat foods rich in phytonutrients (phyto = “plant”), we flood our body with antioxidants which can significantly boost our ability to fight cancer as well as reduce inflammation that leads to chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
While plant foods clearly outperform animal foods in the antioxidant area, averaging 64 times the antioxidant power, some plant foods are the kind of overachievers that we all need on our side, and in our bodies. A 2010 research study, that examined the total antioxidant content of more than 3100 edible items, identified dried herbs and spices as the most concentrated source of antioxidants. Some, including cloves, allspice, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, sage, and rosemary were so powerful that a pinch could provide protection. Since most of us probably have spices in our pantries that have outlived their freshness, as they are nearly odorless when crushed, it may be time to restock and consider making your own spice blends. Since the holiday season is upon us, these blends also make wonderful gifts. I have recipes for three blends, along with suggestions that I encourage you to pass along with each gift, so that your friends and family will enjoy their flavor and health benefits!
Chai Spice – Combine 1 tsp of each: allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander with 1/2 tsp of each: black pepper, nutmeg and turmeric. (This blend is especially wonderful, as the black pepper improves your body’s ability to absorb turmeric by as much as 2000%!)
Pumpkin Pie Spice – Combine 4 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp ground ginger, 1 tsp ground nutmeg and 1/2 tsp ground cloves.
The Chai Spice or Pumpkin Pie Spice can be substituted for cinnamon in nearly every recipe, and enjoyed in oatmeal, your favorite homemade granola, sprinkled on roasted winter squash (slices or pureed), in a smoothie, on cereal, in a fruit crisp, on freshly fruit slices (apples, pears, persimmons, citrus), in pancakes, cookies, muffins, or French toast, on a baked sweet potato or stirred into warmed almond or soy milk for your own Chai/Pumpkin Spiced Latte.
Homemade Italian Seasoning – 1/2 cup dried oregano, 1/2 cup dried basil, 1/4 cup dried rosemary, 1/4 cup dried marjoram, 1/4 cup dried thyme, 1/4 cup dried sage, 2 TBSP dried minced garlic (Source for Italian Seasoning: http://www.simplehealthytasty.com)
This Italian Seasoning is wonderfully versatile, and can be adjusted to your taste preferences. Enjoy it to your pasta or pizza sauce, sprinkle it on sandwiches and in wraps, incorporate it into your salad dressings and soups, toss veggies with it before or after roasting or grilling, add it to steaming water for artichokes, sprinkle it on your homemade veggie pizza, stir into grain and bean salads or dishes that combine greens and beans, in a stuffing for peppers, mushrooms or zucchini, on homemade whole grain croutons or in your favorite bean spread.
Don’t forget about some of our local seasonal favorites available right now, but not for long! Penny, the pomegranate lady, is selling her pomegranates just south of Harney Lane on Lower Sacramento Rd, and Richard and Jan Hust are selling delicious sugar pie pumpkins for $.50/each and taking orders for their delicious walnuts for only $4/lb at their farm stand on Turner Road, just east of Davis Rd.
Timaree Hagenburger, is a registered dietitian and certified exercise physiologist with a master’s degree in public health. She is a nutrition professor at Cosumnes River College, conducts corporate wellness work, does professional speaking engagements and has a regular segment on California Bountiful TV. These wonderful spice mix recipes, as well as several more, (plus multiple ways to use each one can) be found in her innovative cookbook – The Foodie Bar™ Way: One meal. Lots of options. Everyone’s happy. available at www.FoodieBars.com
My article was published in the Lodi News Sentinel, titled: “A pinch of homemade herbs and spices aids in protecting the body from cancer”