We might take them for granted, but those spices on our kitchen shelves are incredibly powerful tools in helping us build our immunity against various diseases and infections, including COVID-19
Spices are the ‘heart and soul’ of Indian cuisine. Almost every dish in Indian cuisine has a dash of spice to add flavour, fragrance and taste. For most of us, food without spices is like a dull day without sunshine. Every kitchen shelf in India has different varieties of spices and herbs, in jars large and small.
Since ancient times, India has been the largest exporter of various spices and condiments. It’s also the largest producer of spices in the world. Our ancient medical texts mention the benefits of spices to treat various diseases. And if we still needed convincing, of late several health experts and research communities have been stressing a lot on the immunomodulatory effects of spices and condiments. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ministry of AYUSH, GOI, have strongly recommended spices and condiments to keep the COVID-19 virus at bay.
“Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity” or ORAC is a measurement of food, spice, or other nutrient/substance’s ability to suppress or quench oxidative free radicals in a test tube. As we all know, life as we know it cannot exist without oxygen. But free radicals, produced during various metabolic processes in the body cause oxidative stress and damage our DNA, lipids, and tissues. This in turn paves the way for the development of chronic degenerative diseases in our bodies. COVID-19, for instance, affects the respiratory system, and induces oxidative stress in the body. A strong immune system is the best weapon against such diseases and viruses, and various studies have demonstrated, that spices and condiments possess the highest ORAC value compared to any other food ingredients. Loaded with antioxidant properties, they help prevent or suppress free radical formation and propagation, and further promote the termination of the chain reaction. They are also loaded with various immunomodulatory vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium, zinc, copper, chromium, manganese, selenium, vitamin A, vitamin C, etc.
According to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) database on the ORAC value of selected foods released in 2010, ground cloves rank the highest with about 2,90,283 µmol Trolox, equivalent per 100 gram. Spices such as dried oregano, dried rosemary, dried thyme, ground cinnamon, ground turmeric, dried vanilla beans, ground sage, dried Szechuan pepper, dried parsley, ground nutmeg, dried basil, cumin seed, curry powder, white pepper, ground ginger, black pepper, fresh sage, yellow mustard seed, fresh thyme, fresh marjoram, chili powder, paprika, red or cayenne pepper, etc., are also high in ORAC.
A recent study published in American Chemical Society Chemical Neuroscience shows a sharp correlation between the total number of COVID-19 cases per million population, and the grams of spice supply per capita per day. Countries with low consumption of spices per capita had higher COVID-19 cases per million population, while countries with higher consumption of spices displayed high rates of recovery.
Though the exact mechanism of the role of spices and condiments in immune responses needs to be explored further, increasing the intake of spices and condiments in our diets clearly contributes to strengthening our immune system. So, spice up your life to stay healthy.
(The author is a Ph.D. scholar (Human Nutrition) in the Department of Food and Nutrition, G.B. Pant University of Agriculture & Technology, Uttarakhand)