Key Curry ingredients and their nutritional value to health and fertility (Part 1).
By Sue Bedford (MSc Nutritional Therapy)
Many people love a home cooked curry and it is a great way to use up any fruit and vegetables – helping prevent food wastage too. But what are the key nutritional and health benefits to be obtained from some of the key ingredients we love to put in our curries?
In this article we examine some of the key ingredients to be found in a curry. There are of course many other frequently used ingredients that are enjoyed as part of a curry that provide amazing health benefits too, including cumin, peppers, chilli, spinach, chickpeas and lentils. We will look at them in more depth in part 2 of this series!
Ginger is one of the most used and loved spices in the world and is used in many curry dishes. It is packed with bioactive compounds that offer many health benefits. Some of the important nutrients that it contains are- vitamin C, B5 and B6, along with a good amount of potassium, manganese, copper, and magnesium. The key compound found in ginger is Gingerol. Ginger is used to help alleviate gastrointestinal issues, plays a role in reducing inflammation in the body, heart health, supports the immune system, rejuvenates skin and increases energy levels. It also contains anti-microbial properties. Ginger is a prebiotic food, which feeds the ‘good’ bacteria in the gut, helping to improve the absorption of vital nutrients and thus supporting our general health and fertility too.
In relation to fertility, Ginger is high in antioxidants, which play an important role in helping to protect the egg and sperm cells from oxidative damage and stress. When it comes to male fertility, fresh ginger root is a good source of zinc. Zinc is important in sperm formation, sperm motility, enzyme reactions and in hormone metabolism. In research, it has been found that low zinc status may be a contributory factor to male infertility as zinc levels have been found to be lower in men with low sperm counts.
Gingerol, the main bioactive compound in ginger, has powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Conditions such as Poly Cystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and Endometriosis, that greatly affect fertility, are heavily tied to inflammation in the body. Getting more ginger into the diet can help mitigate inflammation and facilitate conception. Ginger is also thought to help women who have uterine fibroids as it increases circulation in the body helping to support a healthy inflammation response and normal detoxification. It also helps to support proper digestion which is very important for inflammatory conditions.
Onions are a key ingredient and are usually found in most curries. They provide powerful antioxidants and one of the main ones is Quercetin, which is found in good amounts in onions, garlic and shallots. Research shows that quercetin may lower the risk of heart disease and block the release of histamine, helping to ease the symptoms of allergies like hay fever. Onions are a prebiotic food and contain Inulin – a soluble fibre. Prebiotics are important in our gut as they help the growth of the ‘good’ bacteria (Probiotics). The soluble Inulin fibres are called Oligosaccharides. As they are not digested, they remain in the digestive tract and encourage the good bacteria to grow – they are linked to many health benefits. Good gut health is important for general health and also fertility as, if we are not digesting our food correctly, this will affect the absorption of key nutrients. Onions contain a good amount of the antioxidant vitamin c, important for immune system health, skin health and also protecting cells from free radical damage including the egg and sperm cells.
Garlic has been known for its amazing health benefits to the human body since ancient times and has been extensively researched. In terms of helping general health it is best known for the ability it possesses to support the immune system and heart health. Garlic is low in calories and rich in selenium, allicin (aids blood circulation), vitamin C, vitamin B6 and manganese. It also contains trace amounts of various other nutrients as-well as the powerful antioxidant Quercetin (see onions).
In relation to fertility, the selenium and other antioxidants found in garlic help to improve sperm quality and motility because of their antioxidant effect and also help protect sperm and egg cells (DNA) from free radical damage.
Turmeric is one of the main spices in the Indian dish curry, well researched for containing anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It is especially well known for the active substance Curcumin, which is a chemical compound, of which there are several, known as Curcuminoids. Curcumin is what makes Turmeric be known as a ‘Functional Food’. Meaning that it has a potentially positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition. Turmeric has been found in numerous studies to provide a whole host of health benefits such as in heart health, reducing PMS, skin health, reducing depression and reducing the symptoms of arthritis to name a few.
When it comes to fertility, one of the most important properties of Turmeric is it’s role in reducing inflammation. The curcumin compounds found in Turmeric give it natural anti-inflammatory properties and have been shown to inhibit pro-inflammatory enzymes. Excess inflammation is known to be the root cause of a variety of imbalances in the body. Several reproductive disorders are accompanied by chronic inflammation, which can significantly reduce the ability to conceive and maintain a healthy pregnancy. For example :poor sperm and egg quality, uterine fibroids and ovarian cysts, endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), pelvic inflammatory disease, early menopause (premature ovarian failure) and poor sperm and egg quality.
Tomatoes are a key ingredient in many curries. They are an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals including vitamin C, folate, manganese, vitamin K, biotin and also a great source of lycopene – a carotenoid antioxidant. The various nutrients obtained from tomatoes have shown to benefit the skin, heart health, eye health and fertility. Lycopene has also been linked to lowering certain cancers including prostate cancer. In relation to fertility, vitamin C is a key antioxidant provided by tomatoes, which helps to protect the egg and sperm from oxidative stress caused by free radical damage. Research has also been carried out to examine the effect of the antioxidants in lycopene in helping to protect developing sperm from free radical damage and possible DNA damage.
Coriander or cilantro is a wonderful source of nutrients and is enjoyed in curries in a variety of forms – it is a great way of adding flavour and helps to reduce the need for extra salt. Coriander is a rich source of dietary fibre, manganese, iron, and magnesium. Coriander is also a great source of Vitamin K, Vitamin C, and protein. These beneficial qualities of coriander leaves help in improving blood sugar levels, supporting immunity, improving heart health, promoting digestion, improving kidney functioning, and more. It’s antioxidant & antibiotic properties can help treat gastrointestinal problems and can also be an effective remedy for respiratory ailments and loss of appetite and memory.
In relation to fertility, studies have found that coriander seeds, extract, and oils can help lower blood sugar – this is important when it comes to balancing hormones, which has a knock on effect for fertility and the associated hormones. This amazing herb is also a great source of antioxidants – helping to prevent the cells including sperm and egg from premature ageing due to free radical damage.