Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Virgini-Tea

So it's my last cleanse day before the holidays. After today, I'll be looking at about two weeks of non-stop drinking.

Good God, I don't literally mean non-stop drinking. I just mean I won't be taking 'off-days' until after New Year's.

So ... um ... yay!!

It was the English poet, William Cowper, who said "Variety is the (very) spice of life - giving it all its flavor" over two hundred years ago. But the words still ring true for me. Because variety is at the very heart of this plan. I find it helps make it easier to stick to than most moderation programs which have less freedom and variety.

Speaking of the spice of life ... I'm having some spicy homemade chai tea this morning. It sounds a lot more complicated than it is - and it's incredibly good for you. An excellent substitute for double-caramel-mocha-lattes with whipped cream ... on occasion anyway.

Spices have been used for thousands of years to flavor and preserve food. But the upside to all of that is  that spices contain natural phytochemicals which help boost our immune system, fight inflammation and even help prevent some cancers.

Spice-rich diets in countries like India have long been purported to help keep incidents of cancer and heart disease low among that population. Not surprisingly, when Indians begin eating a western diet, these diseases tend to increase to levels more in keeping with westerners. So it makes sense to try to include more spices in our diets - even in the morning.

The spices I use to jazz up my tea are pretty simple. I start with a base of herbal teas available at most health food stores. Since I could never decide if I wanted Organic Ginger Tea for its anti-inflammatory and digestive benefits or Milk Thistle Tea for its benefits to the liver (the silymarin in milk thistle can actually reverse liver damage from heavy metals, radiation - even alcoholism), I decided to mix them together - and the flavors really complement each other. I drink this tea every morning.

I don't add spices every day, but when I do this is how I jazz it up. While the tea bags are steeping in a cup of hot water, I fill a stainless steel tea strainer with:

1 cinnamon stick
6-8 whole cloves
6-8 black peppercorns
4 cracked cardamom pods

I toss all the spices into the strainer and let them sit in the hot water along with the tea bags for several minutes. After that, I sometimes add a squeeze of lemon juice - which also has great anti-inflammatory and potentially anti-cancer properties. You can sweeten the tea with agave or honey, but I usually have mine straight up.

I adapted this recipe from the Dancer's Guide To Healthy Eating available from The Shoe Room at Canada's National Ballet School where I have my classes every week. The authors recommended a boiled-tea recipe using the above spices to help treat the inflamed muscles of professional dancers. I simplified the recipe by simply steeping the spices and adding the other tisanes (herbal teas). This is also a caffeine-free tea which makes it great at night, as well. So experiment with different spices and proportions and see what works for you.

It might be an acquired taste for some, but when it comes to your health, it's worth it. By the way, wasn't your first double-double an acquired taste?

Not to mention your first drink. Though that one didn't take all that long to acquire - not for me, anyway. That's the problem.

Or the opportunity, as the case may be. ;)

Here's EatingWell.com's guide to 8 of the healthiest spices. And more about the health benefits of spices from The Huffington Post.