Most of us do not have unlimited amounts of money to spend on food. We like to stretch our food dollar, spotting good deals when we can and saving money at the checkout. Another way to look at your food budget is to ask yourself this question: how can I get the best return on my food dollar investment? In other words, rather than looking at total food dollars spent, change the value question. Ask yourself this: which ingredients will deliver the most nourishment and value to my body per dollar spent? This indeed may reshape your food purchasing ideas and make your genes dance too.
Why you should make your genes dance
Simply put, your genes produce proteins which conduct the daily business of your body. Whether they are building infrastructure, like bones and muscles, or shuttling information between your cells, brain and any other structure in your body, proteins are your “everything.” Genes are the starter engine for proteins. You are nothing without them. Each gene has an important protein production function. Some of the proteins they produce may be more influential than others, helping the body manage inflammation, oxidative stress, or removing toxic compounds for example. So when it comes to how to spend your food dollar, think of it like this: if you want to choose a dance partner, choose the one that helps you dance the best.
Here is my list of herbs and spices that help your genes put on their best “dance” performance.
Herbs are among our richest source of bioactives, the elements in food that essentially invite genes to the protein production dance through the signals they send. We are truly only just beginning to understand which bioactives talk to which genes, but certain bioactives are stand-outs. When we research foods for their food-gene relationships, we look for foods containing bioactives with the signaling capability I mentioned.
Among the most bioactive-rich herbs are what I call Mediterranean herbs. These include basil, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme. Grow them yourself or buy them fresh when you can because fresh delivers the bioactives in their most biologically active form If fresh is not a choice, then keep these herbs on hand in their dried form. Purchase dried herbs in small quantities at a time, preferably dispensed from the bulk herb area in your grocery store. This ensures a fresher product which you use faster.
When we study foods for their gene-dancing capability, we look for bioactives with the ability to signal or communicate with our genes. This signaling capability is known as “nutrigenomic activity” and it a scientific validation of how specific bioactives can influence gene behavior or expression. Spices are incredibly rich in bioactives with nutrigenomic activity. Truth be told, spices contain so many bioactives that we are waiting for research to catch up and tell us exactly which genes they are interacting with and the positive impact on our health. In the meantime, you can proceed with the confidence that spices provide a rich return on your food dollar investment!
All this being said, spices can be expensive, so you want to choose wisely. If you are budget conscious, the best return on the food dollars you allot to spices would be turmeric and ginger. Fresh roots are best, but don’t shy away from the dried. Just like herbs, bulk dispense them in small quantities to optimize their flavor and of course, the gene-dance.
Other high-value spices that connect to your genes are what I call Thanksgiving or Fall season spices. These include cinnamon, cloves which pair so beautifully with the apples and squash we associate with this time of year. And if you still have some food dollars left over add cardamom, coriander and/or fenugreek to your grocery list. These wonderfully aromatic spices are commonly used in Indian, Middle Eastern and Africa style dishes, adding beautiful flavor and delicacy to recipes. And if you haven’t discover fenugreek yet, know that is a wonderful antioxidant with blood sugar smoothing properties. Be sure to add it to your grocery list!
If you are looking for a simple way to incorporate spices into a dish is to create your own curry blend. Check out my recipe here. Just stir the blend into beans and lentils (canned or reconstituted from dried) and enjoy a beautiful meal that talks to your genes and returns the investment you made with your food dollars!
Here’s your gene-dancing grocery list
Herbs: Basil, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme
Spices: Cardamom, coriander, fenugreek, ginger, turmeric