In previous articles I have discussed how food processing has diminished the nutritional value of food and how over-consuming processed foods can have serious negative implications for your health.
Another consequence of modern food processing and the nature of advertising is how strongly people are influenced by the taste of and reward from eating a processed food.
For many people, repeated exposure to foods containing added sugar, artificial sweeteners and other various additives has altered their perception of taste and affected their appreciation of the richness of natural flavours present in whole foods.
While ordering a coffee on a recent trip to California, I observed a girl of about 12 years of age who was ostensibly overweight ordering a large chocolate frappuccino and adding three sugars and two packets of the artificial sweetener aspartame. That is an extreme example, of course, but it does show how people can become so drastically desensitised to the taste of sweetness.
As ever, the body is extremely adaptable, so we do have the ability to rediscover our appreciation and taste for natural flavours, which are provided in abundance by nature.
FOR CENTURIES, WHILE THE EARLY EXPLORERS WOULD SEEK OUT NEW CONTINENTS AND OCEANS, THE DISCOVERY OF NEW TASTES AND FLAVOURS FROM EXOTIC SPICES AND HERBS WOULD ENHANCE THE ENJOYMENT OF THEIR MEALS.
Spices were tasty treasures, and a currency of sorts. These highly valued spices were once difficult to find in non-tropical climates but are now routinely available worldwide, often on our doorstep.
Sadly, however, for the majority of the population, they are overlooked and under-appreciated because of the far greater physiological reward from sugar and artificially sweetened foods (reward is a theme I will return to in another article).
There are countless examples of flavoursome spices that were discovered centuries ago which can be used to enhance the flavour of food and promote good health. One of the most commonly available and versatile spices, and one of my favourites, is cinnamon.
Cinnamon is a red spice that originated in Sri Lanka but has been used in the Middle East and Asia for culinary and medicinal purposes for thousands of years. It comes in ground form or in sticks or rolls – equally usable and beneficial for our health.
THE HEALTH BENEFITS
CINNAMON IS LOW IN CALORIES, CONTAINS CALCIUM, MANGANESE, POTASSIUM, IRON AND FIBRE AND IS RICH IN COMPOUNDS CALLED PHENOLS, WHICH ACT AS ANTIOXIDANTS. A DIET RICH IN ANTIOXIDANTS IS SUGGESTED TO HELP PREVENT TISSUE DAMAGE AND CONTROL INFLAMMATORY PROCESSES THAT CAN DAMAGE OUR BODY'S CELLS &NDASH; DAMAGE THAT CAN LEAD TO AN ELEVATED RISK OF DISEASE.
Research on the health benefits of cinnamon suggests it may help to reduce the risk factors associated with diabetes and heart disease by blocking the formation of molecules that contribute to damage caused by these diseases.
What is truly remarkable is that cinnamon is known to improve the body's ability to utilise sugar and maintain stable blood sugar levels, which leads to stable energy levels and better weight control in the long-term. These findings are in complete contrast to how our bodies respond to foods containing added sugars and artificial sweeteners.
Sugar-sweetened foods destabilise blood sugar levels and increase inflammation – both major factors that elevate the risk of diet-related disease.
MAKING THE MOST OF CINNAMON CINNAMON BUNS, PASTRY OR ICE-CREAM MIGHT COME TO MIND? I'M AFRAID THEY ARE NOT ON THE MENU! IF YOU WANT TO GAIN THE HEALTH BENEFITS FROM CINNAMON, THEN IT CAN'T BE MIXED UP WITH SUGAR, WHITE FLOUR AND UNHEALTHY FATS.
CINNAMON REALLY IS A GREAT SPICE, AND IS PRETTY CHEAP. SO STOCK UP AND START EXPERIMENTING.
Making your own tasty, healthy treats and snacks, or sprinkling it in various drinks to add flavour are the best ways to use this wonderful spice most wisely. Some of my favourite ways to use cinnamon is in smoothies, homemade breakfast bars, flapjacks, sprinkling on chopped fruit and yogurt, in porridge or in coffee. You need surprisingly little of the spice to give these dishes a really nice flavour – a teaspoon is usually more than sufficient to gain both the health benefits and the flavour, and vastly increase the nutritional value of your meal.
Cinnamon is just one example of the spices that you can use daily, but if it's not for you, there are many more to suit your personal taste. So, ditch foods that contain added sugars and sweeteners and go back to the real flavours that nature provides.
By removing added sugars and sweeteners from your diet, you may be surprised how quickly you will be able to appreciate the natural sweetness in whole, natural foods.
Daniel Davey BSc MSc, CSCS, NEHS is a performance nutritionist