By Dr. Mercola
To designate a vegetable, spice or other edible with the title "superfood" is to recognize that it has the sort of capabilities that far outdistances others among their ranks.
Three superfoods that have gone out of their way to distinguish themselves nutritionally are ginger, turmeric and carrots. If you're surprised by that last one, what follows is a summation of all their attributes, as well as some of the potential they hold for you.
One of the most important bonuses they share: disease-fighting antioxidants. People who eat ginger, turmeric and carrots — especially all of them on one plate — come away not just with lowered risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, but also numerous, so-called "less serious" but often debilitating ailments such as pain and inflammation.
It may not be a surprise to learn that ginger and turmeric both belong to the same botanical family, Zingiberacea. Both have been used in culinary applications, and have been regarded as powerful remedies for numerous ailments, for millennia.
These two are particularly powerful used in tandem, such as turmeric-ginger tea (which involves a teaspoon of each, grated, in a cup of boiled water; using ground spices requires a third of a teaspoon per cup.)
Note that the benefits of these foods — virtually every food, actually — come from the foods themselves — not a supplement or drug made from them.
Here are two more reasons these superfoods may make you raise your eyebrows: You'll find that in most stores, these amazingly healthy offerings from the earth are quite inexpensive, even if they're organic — and organic is always the better buy.
Another surprise may come when you learn how lovely these three foods taste together. So what singular benefits do these three superfoods impart?
Tapping into Turmeric
Turmeric, aka Curcuma longa, is a tropical and subtropical rhizome, meaning the root contains the spice, although the leaves are also used in Chinese and East Indian Ayurvedic medicine.
It's famous for its healing qualities, but there's also the brilliant yellow hue, and the curry produced from turmeric that gives Indian and Chinese dishes such unmistakable piquancy. Turmeric has no seeds; the roots are used for propagation.
Curcumin is probably the most important active ingredient in this powerful spice, giving it its impressive medicinal clout.
In fact, this compound has been estimated to contain around 150 different therapeutic benefits, including boosting your immunity, protecting your heart and moderating the effects of autoimmune diseases. Here are a few more of the benefits you gain when you ingest turmeric.
• Alzheimer's disease: Research indicates turmeric may reverse cognitive decline and dementia.1 One study on three Alzheimer's patients who took turmeric powder capsules for 12 weeks showed remarkable improvement.
Researchers said, "Both the patients' symptoms and the burden on their caregivers were significantly decreased."2
• Heart health: Three studies at a Japanese university determined that daily curcumin supplements could improve the risk factors for cardiovascular health to the same degree as moderate aerobic exercise.
"Our results indicated that curcumin ingestion and aerobic exercise training can increase flow-mediated dilation in postmenopausal women, suggesting that both can potentially improve the age-related decline in endothelial function."3
• Joint pain: Helping to relieve stiffness caused by arthritis is one of the main benefits of this spice.
• AIDS: Studies demonstrate the remarkable potential turmeric has for AIDS patients, as turmeric is both an antioxidant and antimicrobial.
Research suggests it may help heal skin wounds, inhibit infection-promoting enzymes and proteins, reduce infected cells, and block multiplication of infected T-cells, without the side effects of conventional drugs.4
• Epilepsy: Scientists found curcumin to have a neuroprotective affect on epilepsy and related disorders.5
One of turmeric's disadvantages is that curcumin is not quickly bioavailable, meaning that once ingested your body is unable to quickly absorb it to access the benefits. Interestingly, studies show accessibility is increased when you add, say for a cup of tea, a teaspoon of a fat such as coconut oil or flaxseed oil.
Generous Dividends Generated by Ginger
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is essentially the part of the stem that grows underground — hence the name ginger root. It originated in Asia and spread to Europe via Roman traders, making a name for itself as both a medicine and flavor enhancer.
Ginger is potently aromatic with a warm, "zingy" essence, which has made it one of the world's most sought-after spices. Just a few thin slivers make an incredibly healing tea. Ginger is often ground to a powder for easy sprinkling and can be added to nearly every type of food — soups to cookies to stir fries.
The most powerful compound in ginger, aptly, is gingerol, the oil that also imparts the fragrance. One article notes that studies show:
"…Ginger extract may be an even more effective anti-cancer agent than chemotherapy drugs, killing cancerous cells while leaving healthy ones untouched. Its anti-inflammatory properties might also help prevent the progression of precancerous cells to cancer."6
Here are a few more advantages:
• Inflammation: Even pain from different types of arthritis is lessened by ingesting ginger, by drinking ginger tea or adding a generous sprinkle on foods.
Participants in numerous studies reported reduced muscle soreness, improved agility and movement, and reduction in swelling, such as knee pain,7 when using ginger regularly.
• Nausea: Besides aiding digestion and soothing the tummy trouble known as colic, ginger is known as being able to relieve nausea.
This includes morning sickness and motion sickness, and it's even been used successfully for patients after surgery or undergoing chemotherapy. The George Mateljan Foundation reported:
"In herbal medicine, ginger is regarded as an excellent carminative (a substance which promotes the elimination of intestinal gas) and intestinal spasmolytic (a substance which relaxes and soothes the intestinal tract) …
A clue to ginger's success in eliminating gastrointestinal distress is offered by recent double-blind studies, which have demonstrated that ginger is very effective in preventing the symptoms of motion sickness, especially seasickness.
In fact, in one study, ginger was shown to be far superior to Dramamine …"8
• Diabetes: Researchers conducted a study to investigate the effects of ginger on the fasting blood sugar of 41 participants. The end result of the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial showed that just 2 grams of ground ginger decreased the patients' fasting blood sugar by 12 percent.9
• Memory: Ginger has been shown to improve memory; in one study, 60 healthy, middle-aged women underwent doses of either plant extracts or a placebo over a two-month period.
After being evaluated for their memory and cognitive function, researchers concluded that ginger extract "enhances both attention and cognitive processing capabilities, with no side effects.10
From the Umbelliferae family, carrots are a go-to veggie for innumerable hearty dishes, as well as a handy, crunchy snack. I generally recommend eating carrots in moderation because they contain more sugar than any other vegetable aside from beets.
However, when eaten as part of an overall healthy diet, the nutrients in carrots may provide multiple health benefits. Beta-carotenes (named after carrots), their most prominent nutrient, aren't manufactured in your body, so they're required in your diet. One article adds:
"… Beta-carotene maintains vision, regulates the growth of cells in your skin, keeps membranes lining your nose and respiratory tract healthy and helps control the production of proteins. All carotenoids, including beta-carotene, also possess antioxidant abilities."11
Phytonutrients such as lutein and anthocyanins join vitamins and minerals for extraordinary health-boosting potential -vitamins A, B6, C and K as some of the most beneficial and several minerals. Research has found that the more carotenoids you eat, the longer your life span! Here are some of the health benefits carrots offer:
• Antioxidants: According to the George Mateljan Foundation:
"The many different kinds of carrot antioxidants are most likely to work together and provide us with cardiovascular benefits that we could not obtain from any of these antioxidants alone if they were split apart and consumed individually, in isolation from each other. The synergistic effect of carrot antioxidants is a great example of a whole food and its uniqueness as a source of nourishment."12
• Heart disease: A 10-year study from the Netherlands showed carrots can help prevent cardiovascular disease. The research focused on the color of foods: green, purple/red, white and yellow/orange. The latter showed the most benefits. In decreased heart disease risk; patients who ate more carrots had a 32 percent reduction rate.13
• Cancer: Phytonutrients in carrots such as falcarinol and falcarindiol have been shown to prevent inflammation, possibly by clumping red blood cells to cut the risk of developing full-scale cancerous tumors.14
• Digestion: Pharmanews says, "Regular consumption of carrots helps in preventing gastric ulcers and digestive disorders."15
• Vision: Beta-carotenes convert to vitamin A, which is important for vision, especially if you have a vitamin A deficiency; eating carrots helps prevent such a deficiency.16 Studies also indicate that beta-carotene protects against cataracts and macular degeneration.17
Superfoods Are Cancer Killers
Here are three excerpts from studies showing how these three superfoods were effective in both treatment and prevention of several cancers:
"Although the medicinal properties of ginger have been known for thousands of years, a significant number of in vitro, in vivo, and epidemiological studies further provide substantial evidence that ginger and its active compounds are effective against wide variety of human diseases including GI cancer. Ginger has been found to be effective against various GI cancers such as gastric cancer, pancreatic cancer, liver cancer, colorectal cancer, and cholangiocarcinoma."18
"Curcumin is among the more successful chemopreventive compounds investigated in recent years, and is currently in human trials to prevent cancer. The mechanism of action of curcumin is complex and likely multifactorial. We have made the unexpected observation that curcumin strikingly modulates proteins of iron metabolism in cells and in tissues, suggesting that curcumin has properties of an iron chelator."19
This study has shown that extracts from carrots can induce apoptosis and cause cell cycle arrest in leukemia cell lines.20
And now for a simple dish to get all three of these foods on one delicious plate: Steam a few cups of carrots in a few tablespoons of water, just until tender-crisp. Add a few teaspoons of butter, sea salt to taste and a half-teaspoon each of grated turmeric and ginger (or half that amount of the ground variety). To serve, mash lightly or serve whole for a wildly healthy, delicious side dish.