Recent research has shown that curry could actually be good for you, easing arthritis and even protecting you from Alzheimer’s. Here, we look at the medicinal effects of the spices that go into a curry.
Most curries contain turmeric, cumin, allspice, cardamon, ginger, garlic and capsicum – spices with strong anti-bacterial properties. That’s why they’re found in dishes from hot countries, where meat needs to be preserved.
Studies have found that garlic, cinnamon and cumin can destroy up to 80 per cent of meat-borne bacteria, while ginger can slow bacterial growth by 25 per cent.
Not all curries are healthy. Avoid kormas, masalas and pasandras, which contain frightening amounts of cream. The average chicken tikka masala, for example, contains about 1,500 calories.
Dishes such as rogan josh, madras, jalfrezi and sags (with spinach) tend to have less cream but just as many healthy spices.
The least fattening combination is either a plain vegetable curry with boiled rice, or anything oven baked (tandori), as these tend to be coated in yoghurt and spices and are not fried.
Ginger could act as an effective pain reliever from the agony of arthritis. The spice already comes as a supplement called Zinaxin.
A study, carried out in the U.S. and presented at a recent British Medical Association conference, confirmed that two-thirds of those people involved in the study who were taking ginger supple-ments experienced a reduction in joint pain caused by arthritis.
Ginger is also a traditional cold remedy and contains the antioxidants gingerol, shagaol, and zingerone. It is the zingerone that reacts with the free radicals that can cause tissue damage and joint inflammation, and so helps to reduce the pain of arthritis.
Curcumin is the primary active compound in turmeric which is found in curry powders, as well as being used neat in curries.
A recent study from the U.S. found that eating turmeric can slow down the build up of plaques on the brain – the main cause of Alzheimer’s – by up to 50 per cent.
Turmeric has also been found to help with digestion as well as guard against heart attacks and cancer of the colon.
It also has strong anti-inflammatory properties.
White rice loses many of its healthy benefits in processing. However, it does contain phytic acid, which helps bind the mineral iron in the digestive system, letting the body absorb it easily. It is low in fat and an ideal muscle fuel.
These are more or less pure fat. They are deep fried and contain very little nutritional goodness. Although delicious, they are best avoided if you are trying to eat healthily or are watching your waistline.
Yoghurt is often used both as an Indian condiment in raita and also in the cooking itself. Providing fresh yoghurt is used in the raita, then it is a brilliant source of calcium and vitamin D. It is also beneficial for the intestinal tract, as well as for fighting bacteria in the stomach.
Naan bread in Indian restaurants is generally not very healthy. The white flour used has had most of its nutrients stripped away and it has been drizzled with oil, so even a plain naan contains a staggering 300 calories.
Mangos contain high levels of vitamins, combat stomach acidity and are a good blood cleanser. But in chutney a great deal of sugar has been added and the processed mangos have lost many of their benefits
Onions contain an agent called diallyl sulfide, which prompts the body to make more of the cancer-fighting molecule glutathione-S-transferase. These are a family of enzymes that play an important role in the detoxification of harmful stomach bacteria.
Garlic has been found to have a wide range of health benefits, from protecting the heart by lowering cholesterol to helping to purify the blood.
It also contains allicin, which is a potent anti-cancer agent, and it increases protection from stomach cancer by promoting the production of protective enzymes in the stomach.
Cumin contains phytochemicals – chemicals that are found in plants. Several phytochemicals, including that in cumin, have been found to block various hormone actions and metabolic pathways that are associated with the development of cancer and heart disease.
The phytochemicals appear to work alone, as well as in combination with vitamins and other nutrients in food, to prevent cancer. The main anti-cancer agents in cumin are carevol and limonene.
A study in Israel showed that the patients consuming high levels of cumin were less likely to develop prostate cancer.
Allspice, a berry-based spice used in a lot of Indian cooking, contains eugenol, an antioxidant that enhances the digestive enzyme trypsin and so helps aide digestion.
Capsicum is the main phytochemical found in red peppers. It works as an anti-inflammatory, reduces cholesterol formation in the liver and is also used in topical preparations for arthritis relief, although eating it won’t have the same effect.
Cardamon comes in seeds and is considered to be a strong antiseptic and antimicrobial spice by herbalists. It is also a mild aphrodisiac as well as helping to relieve flatulence.