Some like it hot. If you do, there are hot chilies. But there are also
sweet and mild chilies, and all chilies are great culinary medicine.
WATER-COOLER FACT: Most of a chili’s heat—by a factor of sixteen—is
in the ribs that attach the seeds to the chili, not the seeds or the flesh.
The burn from a chili can be cooled with continuous contact with
something icy cold because the nerve receptors are cooled, or something
crunchy like chips or celery, which sends the brain a different signal.
WHAT’S IN IT: Chilies are a very good source of vitamins A, C, and
dietary fiber. They are also a good source of iron and potassium, and
they are rich in antioxidants. Two teaspoons of dried chili pepper have
Capsaicin, the chemical responsible for making chilies hot, may have the power to
kill prostate cancer cells. And the hotter the chili, the more capsaicin.
WHAT IT’S GOOD FOR: Helping you lose weight, in two ways. First,
chilies can help you reach satiety faster. Twenty-four subjects who
consumed 0.9 grams of hot red pepper (very hot: 80,000 Scoville units)
before each meal ate fewer calories and less fat than those who took a
placebo. Maybe their mouths hurt too much to eat more. Second, chilies
can boost your metabolism. Thirteen subjects were fed one of four
meals: high fat; high fat and ten grams of hot red pepper; high
carbohydrate; and high carbohydrate and ten grams of hot red pepper.
The addition of hot red pepper increased thermo-genesis (the process by
which the body generates heat by increasing the metabolic rate above
normal), particularly after the high-fat meal. Hotter chilies seem to have
more benefits, including the ability to clear insulin from the
DOCTOR IT UP!
For extra flavor, toast dried chilies for five seconds over an open flame before
seeding, soaking, and pureeing them for chili and sauces.
Cocoa was considered a royal drink in ancient Mexico and was drunk
out of gold goblets. Montezuma reportedly drank fifty or more goblets of
it a day. Talk about a chocoholic!
WATER-COOLER FACT: Fermenting cocoa beans gives them their
chocolate flavor. Cocoa powder that has not been “dutched” or
chemically treated with alkali has more flavonoids than dutched cocoa
powder, and is lighter in color.
WHAT’S IN IT: Chocolate is a very complex food, containing hundreds of
chemicals, including caffeine, though much less caffeine than in coffee.
Chocolate also contains magnesium and calcium. One hundred grams
(about 3.3 ounces) of a Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate bar has 531
WHAT IT’S GOOD FOR: Helping you control your blood pressure. Five
studies showed that a polyphenol-rich cocoa dropped systolic blood
pressure by 4.7 millimeters of mercury and diastolic by 2.8 millimeters
of mercury. Barely one-quarter ounce daily of dark chocolate (thirty
calories of Ritter Sport Halbbitter) dropped pressures by 2.9 and 1.9
millimeters of mercury after eighteen weeks. This reduces the risk of
stroke by 8 percent, heart disease by 5 percent, and overall mortality by
Dark chocolate can help dilate your arteries because it improves nitric oxide
bioavailability (body readiness). Nitric oxide is the naturally occurring chemical that
helps your arteries expand when needed.
Cinnamon is one of the oldest spices and has been used for millennia
as a medicine.
WATER-COOLER FACT: Cinnamon’s essential oils have been shown to
have more antibacterial activity than Cool Mint Listerine.
WHAT’S IN IT: Cinnamon is a tree bark and an excellent source of
manganese, which you need for forming skin, bone, and cartilage and
regulating blood sugar. Cinnamon is also a very good source of fiber,
iron, and calcium. One tablespoon of ground cinnamon has eighteen
WHAT IT’S GOOD FOR: Possibly regulating blood sugar and blood
pressure levels. Cinnamon may help protect you from diabetes—it
improves the body’s response to sugar by improving insulin sensitivity,
and people with normal blood sugar have a slower than usual blood
sugar rise after eating a dessert with cinnamon, like rice pudding. Less
than a teaspoon of cinnamon daily lowered blood sugar by 7 percent in
one study. The calcium and fiber in cinnamon bind bile salts, which
helps to lower cholesterol levels. Cinnamon extract has also been found
in the laboratory to inhibit the growth of cancerous tumor cells and act
as an antimicrobial and antioxidant.
Cinnamon has more antioxidants than mint, anise, licorice, vanilla, ginger, or
Breath mint, anyone? Over two thousand years ago the Chinese
chewed cloves as a natural breath freshener to avoid offending the
emperor. To avoid offending your Inner ChefMD, eat more cloves.
WATER-COOLER FACT: Cloves begin as bright red flower buds of an
evergreen, and dry to dark brown.
WHAT’S IN IT: Cloves are an excellent source of manganese; a very good
source of fiber, vitamins C and K, and omega-3 fatty acids; and a good
source of magnesium and calcium. Two teaspoons of ground cloves have
WHAT IT’S GOOD FOR: Keeping your blood sugar levels down. Thirty-six
type 2 diabetics who ate up to three grams of cloves for thirty days
showed a decrease in their blood sugar from an average of 225
milligrams per deciliter to an average of 150 milligrams per deciliter.
They also had decreased triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL levels.
Among twenty-six spices, cloves are the most powerful antioxidant, and exhibit the
strongest free radical scavenging activity.
CURRY POWDER AND TURMERIC
Fuzzy memory? Eat more curry. Upset stomach? Try curry powder.
Cancer prevention? Again, have some curry—because curry contains
turmeric, which was introduced to Europe in the thirteenth century,
although it had been cultivated and harvested in India for at least
twenty-five hundred years. Hopefully, it won’t take you that long to try a
WATER-COOLER FACT: Curry powders are as individual as the region
they come from, but they all contain some turmeric. Curry powder
fortified with iron effectively treated iron-deficiency anemia in an
African research study.
WHAT’S IN IT: Curry powder is an excellent source of iron and
manganese and a good source of vitamin B6, fiber, and potassium.
Turmeric is anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant, and it is
about 3 percent curcumin, which is thought to be the active ingredient.
Two teaspoons of either curry powder or turmeric have about sixteen
WHAT IT’S GOOD FOR: Protecting you from Alzheimer’s. Data from the
Singapore National Mental Health Survey suggests that those who
consume curry dishes between monthly and daily had a 49 percent
reduced risk of cognitive impairment, and those who ate curry once
every six months had a 38 percent reduced risk. Also, one gram of
curcumin twice daily cut the relapse rate by 80 percent over six months
in a study of eighty-two patients with stable ulcerative colitis. Oil
improves curcumin’s bioavailability.
DOCTOR IT UP!
Use a coffee grinder or spice mill to grind whole cloves: you retain all of the aromatic
Turmeric has a relatively low bio-availability, but combining it with black pepper
improves its body readiness; the black pepper chemical responsible is piperine.
Did you know that the Egyptians built the pyramids on a diet of bread,
water, and garlic? It’s a good thing that there are less strenuous things to
do with garlic.
WATER-COOLER FACT: Garlic has been called the “stinking rose” for the
aroma it can leave on your breath. Parsley has been traditionally
believed to undo this effect, which is perhaps the reason parsley pairs
with garlic and lemon zest to make the tangy garnish gremolata.
WHAT’S IN IT: Garlic is an excellent source of manganese and a very
good source of vitamin B6 and vitamin C. It is also a good source of
protein, vitamin B1, selenium, calcium, potassium, and iron. Three
average cloves of garlic have thirteen calories.
WHAT IT’S GOOD FOR: Protecting you from a variety of cancers. People
in southern Europe who ate the most garlic had a 26 percent reduced
risk for colorectal cancer, a 10 percent reduced risk for breast cancer, a
22 percent reduced risk for ovarian cancer, and a 19 percent reduced
risk for prostate cancer, compared with those who ate the least garlic.
Also, the allicin found in garlic is a powerful antibacterial agent that is
effective in killing bacteria in dilutions as weak as 1:128.
The healthful and primary aromatic compound in garlic—allicin—is only activated
when garlic is sliced or crushed. Allow garlic to “stand” for ten minutes before
heating it: this prevents the loss of its anti-inflammatory compounds.
As a kid, I liked Mary Ann better! But Ginger is my new favorite.
WATER-COOLER FACT: While commonly thought to be a root, ginger is
actually the underground stem of the plant Zingiber officinale, which
grows in moist, tropical soil.
WHAT’S IN IT: Ginger is a good source of potassium and vitamin B6. A
one-ounce piece of ginger has twenty calories. Dried ginger has less
gingerol and more shogaol, another anti-inflammatory.
WHAT IT’S GOOD FOR: Helping reduce nausea from many causes,
reducing inflammation, and possibly lessening arthritis pain. Six welldesigned scientific studies show that ginger reduces hyperemesis
gravidum, a severe form of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. And
similar studies show ginger’s effectiveness for postoperative nausea and
vomiting. In one well-done study, ginger has been found to be more
effective than the over-the-counter drug Dramamine for treating motion
sickness. Ginger extract has been used by osteoarthritis patients to