By Kanchan Koya, Ph.D.
Doctor of Biomedical Sciences
Kanchan Koya, Ph.D. is an author and an expert in harnessing the power of spices for health and well-being. She received her bachelor’s degree in molecular biology from the University of Texas at Austin and her doctorate in biomedical sciences from Harvard University.
Welcome to mindbodygreen dishes, our new original series that’s part educational, part inspirational, and totally delicious. Featuring a fresh nutrition expert each month, these bite-sized videos dish out the science behind healthy ingredients, and demonstrate a tasty recipe to bring that knowledge into practice. Now, let’s get cooking!
Why do we want to pay attention to inflammation? Inflammation at the right time, in the right context, is a powerful defense that our body needs to fight infection and promote wound healing. The problem is when inflammation becomes chronic, low-grade, and persistent. This can set the stage for disease, aging, and a host of other health effects. This is why we need to pay attention to inflammation and fight chronic inflammation through foods and spices.
Top anti-inflammatory spices
When it comes to anti-inflammatory spices, there are many to choose from. Here are a few that I particularly love because they’re incredibly versatile, super delicious, and easy to use:
First up in our anti-inflammatory spice arsenal is turmeric. Turmeric gets all the love and attention–for good reason. This spice has been used for hundreds of years, and is considered an important healing tool in Ayurveda, which is an ancient Indian medical system.
Turmeric comes packed with plant-based bioactive compounds, the most studied of which is curcumin. Curcumin combats inflammation in multiple ways, making turmeric a powerful anti-inflammatory spices.
Something to note is that turmeric is not very bioavailable, meaning it’s challenging for the body to absorb its benefits. Luckily, you can simply add a pinch of black pepper–this spice contains the compound piperine, which helps boost the bioavailability of turmeric. These two go hand-in-hand in my book when it comes to fighting inflammation.
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Sumac comes from vibrant, burgundy-colored berries that grow in the Middle East. Those berries are dried and then ground down into the spice. Sumac is one of my favorite spices, no exaggeration. It’s packed with anthocyanins, which are plant-based compounds that have anti-inflammatory effects. I love that this spice tastes like lemon, without the liquid, plus it’s easy to use–try sprinkling it on hummus, your favorite salad, or an anti-inflammatory soup (like we do below!).
If you don’t like heat, don’t panic. You can also use paprika or smoked paprika for the same effect. All of these spices have compounds like capsaicin, which is also a powerful anti-inflammatory.
Mustard Seed Powder
Finally we have mustard seed powder–mustard seeds come from the mustard plant, which is a cruciferous vegetable, and therefore contains a number of beneficial nutrients, including anti-inflammatory enzymes (like myrosinase and sulforaphane).
It’s important to note that when we cook cruciferous vegetables, we lose the ability to absorb those enzymes and their potent benefits. That’s why, I love combining these cooked vegetables with other raw sources of myrosinase and sulforaphane, such as mustard seed powder.
What’s amazing about all these different spices and their key bioactives is that they affect inflammation at different points in the molecular cascade within our cells. So when you combine them, you’re getting even more powerful anti-inflammatory benefits.
Now that we’ve chatted all things inflammation and anti-inflammatory spices, it’s time to put this knowledge into practice! Follow along with the video below as I whip up a creamy (dairy-free) broccoli soup that’s packed with anti-inflammatory benefits.
Creamy Anti-Inflammatory Broccoli Soup Recipe
Makes 4 servings
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
3-6 curry leaves (optional)
1 large pinch sumac
1 large pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
1 leek, white and light green parts, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 large head of broccoli, florets and stems roughly chopped
5-7 thin slices daikon radish (can sub any type of radish)
small handful microgreens
juice of 1/2 lime
1 tablespoon chopped walnuts
2 cups water or stock
2 tablespoons avocado or olive oil
Add the broccoli and water or stock and put the lid on, bringing the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 10-15 mins until the broccoli is soft.
Puree the mixture with the avocado in a blender, food processor or with an immersion blender until smooth. Return the mixture to the pot.
In a small pan, warm the remaining oil on medium heat. Add the mustard seeds and let them sizzle and just begin to pop, about 1 minute. Add the turmeric and pepper and saute for 30 seconds. Add the curry leaves (cover pan if oil sputters) and cook for 30-60 seconds.
Transfer the spices and oil to the soup mixture and stir well. Season with salt to taste and stir in the lime juice.
Ladle the soup into a bowl. Top with the radish, microgreens, walnuts, sumac and some cayenne if you fancy heat. Serve right away.
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