Spices for the spice of life



As we age, we tend to move away from our old diets and switch to blander diets. We start avoiding spicy spaghetti sauce, we avoid hot tacos and eventually settle for those menu choices that keep us comfy — no heartburn, no upset stomachs.

I’ve for years gone for the pizza with the most oomph, for a red curry instead of the milder green. When I dine at The Basil, I always go for a curry on the upper levels of burn.

I recently came across an article in the Bottom Line Personal publication that tipped me into an article on “Cancer, arthritis, heart disease, memory loss, more.” It was written by Bill Gottlieb, author of many medical books.

Seemed a story I would enjoy so I plunged into it. It started with traditional spices long touted as good for your health — cinnamon to regulate blood sugar (I’m diabetic and I hadn’t heard that), ginger to help with indigestion, and garlic to lower higher blood pressure. (I add garlic to most dishes I prepare.)

So here are the four spices that are good for us: black pepper, oregano, basil and sage. I use all four of them when I figure it’s appropriate, never knowing I was helping my health along.

Black pepper is rich in a piperine, which is what triggers your sneeze when it hits the nasal cells. It also triggers healing of every organ in our body. Two standout benefits backed by research: It fights cancer (doesn’t cure, but fights cancer). It proved more effective against triple negative breast cancer. It scored best against 55 natural compounds. In another study, it killed aggressive HER2 cancer cells. Piperine also slows the growth of new blood vessels that feed cancer and also improves radiation and chemotherapy.

Piperine also is an antiinflammatory and helps with arthritis and gout as well as inflammation of cartilage tied to gout.

The best way to use black pepper is to buy black peppercorns and grind just before using. Use it at the end of cooking because benefits break down in longer cooking.

Studies show that just smelling black pepper oil can reduce smokers’ cravings and improve “posture stability,” which helps prevent falls with older people.

Put a few drops of black pepper oil on a tissue and inhale two or three times a day. You can buy the oil at Amazon.com, says Gottlieb.

I sought out a pepper mill a couple of years ago and first tried an electric one, which didn’t work very well. Finally, I found an older wooden one which worked fine and continues to do so. I rarely use store-ground pepper and am happy that it continues to do the fresh-ground pepper.

Second on the list for good spices is oregano, vital to many Italian dishes. Two parts of oregano, thymol, and carvacrol have healing powers. A test of two groups of people with high LDL (bad cholesterol) with one group getting oregano with every meal, the other none. Three months into the test the oregano group has a greater decrease of LDL.

Oregano also is antimicrobial and can neutralize staphylococcal, a common hospital infection. You can buy oregano fresh or dried, but Gottlieb goes for one teaspoon of dried oregano daily.

No. 3 on the hit parade is an old friend, basil. Basil comes from India where at least 50 kinds are used. All contain basil’s four main healing parts — antioxidants orientin and vicenin plus volatile oils eugenol and apigenin that can help regulate blood sugar.

Type 2 diabetes patents who used basil saw a sharp decrease in blood sugar levels in several tests. Dried basil had the highest level of health-giving volatiles than fresh. Gottlieb recommends a half-teaspoon daily and suggests tossing a handful into hot pasta along with some olive oil.

Last in the list is our local leaf, sage. The scientific name is Salvia, from the Latin “salvare,” meaning “to save” or “to cure.”

In one test, an hour after a supplement of sage oil, a group had better memory, a more focused attention and a better mood. In another study people who smelled sage were less anxious than a group who took a placebo.

Because of its strong flavor, sage is best used in hearty dishes such as pot roasts, meatloaf and stuffings. The amount needed to help is difficult on a normal diet, so Gottlieb recommends a sage leaf supplement.

‘Kong: Skull Island’ offers Fun in the tropics

The blockbuster film of the moment is “Kong: Skull Island.”

This is a giant fun of a movie with probably half of it presented by computer techs who know how to create computer images for the screen. Makes one recall the 1933 version with scantily-dressed Fay Wray, the object of big boy Kong’s affections.

This version of Kong opens with a Japanese and American fighter pilots crashing on an island after a dogfight. The American has a pistol, the Japanese a samurai sword, and they scuffle until Kong shows up. He’ll handle the fighting on his island, thank you.

Meanwhile, back in Vietnam Lt. Col. Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his helicopter troops are preparing to go home but are offered the chance to explore an unknown island shielded by permanent bad weather.

Along they way they pick up Mason Weaver (Brie Larson, an antiwar photographer as modest eye candy). Also on hand is the spectacular beauty Tian Jing who appears but has about a half-dozen lines of dialogue (probably working out contact). Too bad, the movie could use more of Kong and Jing.

Well, the squadron of choppers moves in on Skull Island and runs into Kong who treats the gnats as appetizers, smashing the choppers open and helping himself to the goodies inside. Later Kong devours monsters with great élan.

By now it seems that this movie is an update of “Apocalypse Now.” A lost tribe is discovered, Kong rescues the photographer from the sea and tenderly lays her down on a ledge.

A nice moment occurs when Jackson replies to a query of when is the calvary coming to save us, replies on the run, “I am the calvary!”

This movie is billed as horror, but it’s hard to be horrified by computer images. All in all, this is a fun movie.

Entirely different is Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” a beautifully animated version of the folktale. If you go, take a kid with you. You’ll both enjoy it more.

Sam Bauman writes about senior affairs, among other things, for the Nevada Appeal.


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