The Spices of Life: Cooking for Health -- with Nina Simonds

Event Date: Thursday, April 28, 2005

By Nina Simonds
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Live Events Transcript

Award-winning cookbook author Nina Simonds joined us on April 28, 2005 to share tips for cooking with spices for better health. Learn about the essential dried herbs and spices that not only provide flavor, but have wonderful health-giving qualities. Get tips for changing your eating habits with a focus on foods and dishes that combine convenience, pleasure, and health.

If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

MODERATOR: Welcome to WebMD Live, Nina. Thank you for joining us today. Your new cookbook is just gorgeous.

SIMONDS: Thank you so much. It's a pleasure to speak to you.

It's important that people understand that I am not substituting foods and herb and spices for medical care. I focus on wellness, and on disease prevention and maintenance of good health, as well as pleasure. When people think of health they think of sacrifice, not pleasure. I believe that you can have it all -- pleasure as well as health.

MODERATOR: The recipes in the book certainly look like they would give great pleasure.

SIMONDS: In compiling this information, I consulted text and authorities on traditional health giving aspects. I checked with Chinese doctors and Dr. U.K. Krishna. He is highly regarded as an authority on Ayurveda. I also consulted with Dr. Jim Duke, who is one of the foremost authorities on contemporary research of herbs and spices. Dr. Duke compiled the database on herbs and spices for the USDA.

MODERATOR: You talk about the health benefits of various spices. If you could only have 10 spices in your pantry, what would they be?


  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Cinnamon
  • Chile Peppers
  • Basil
  • Mint
  • Black Pepper
  • Turmeric
  • Cumin
  • Cilantro

MODERATOR: Well, let's start with cinnamon. Cinnamon is one spice that many people love. Aside from the great flavor, what benefits did you find from cinnamon?

SIMONDS: We know that cinnamon aides digestion and relieves gas. We also know that cinnamon fights colds, coughs, and fevers. It stimulates circulation, also.

In very recent research we've discovered that cinnamon also helps reduce blood sugar levels. The Diabetic Association has acknowledged this as well. Some scientists are suggesting that a half teaspoon of cinnamon per day, sprinkled on cereals, lattes, desserts, and yogurt, can help to prevent the onset of adult type 2 diabetes.

MEMBER QUESTION: I am type 2 diabetic. Cinnamon is excellent for us. How can I use cinnamon in my diet?

SIMONDS: One of the things you can do is, if you have tea or latte, (I drink a decaf latte every day) just sprinkle it right into the tea or latte.

You can also use cinnamon sprinkled over breakfast cereal, on fruits, or sprinkle cinnamon and a little bit of salt and olive oil on sweet potatoes. I love sweet potatoes -- in the oven like regular potatoes. I serve them without butter but a little bit of cinnamon and olive oil and salt -- just a tiny bit. It really enhances the flavor of the sweet potato. If you make fruit salad, it's terrific as a refreshing dessert -- cinnamon and a little sugar or honey is excellent.

I also believe that midafternoon tea is a wonderful ritual for energizing and relaxing. I brew tea. You could do an herbal tea with cinnamon or have a biscotti or a muffin. There's an apple sauce cinnamon muffin in my book, and pumpkin apple sauce muffins with cinnamon.

You can sprinkle cinnamon over bananas and baste them, and it's delicious. I have a banana a day for potassium. Asians believe it keeps you regular.

Asians also use cinnamon in their brazing of meat.

MODERATOR: Check out the recipe for Fragrant Cinnamon Pork in Nina's book.

SIMONDS: It's fascinating to look at classic Chinese cuisine and classic Indian cooking because you see herb and spice combinations with food.

What we are learning is that there were reasons that herbs and spices were paired with different foods. The ancient healers felt that these foods had health-giving properties. They combined their herbs and spices to increase and compliment the different health-giving properties. It's really interesting to go back and see some of where it all began and to consult with the latest medical research and scientific studies that are now going on.

MEMBER QUESTION: Are there any herbs and spices you recommend to replace salt? I'm trying to watch my sodium intake.

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