Eating a diet rich in spices can reduce the body’s response to high fat meals. A new study has tested the effects of culinary spices on markers of conditions such as heart disease.
The study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, tested the effects of a spicy meal on levels of insulin, triglycerides and antioxidant defences.
Professor Sheila West and her colleagues prepared meals on two separate days for six men between the ages of 30 and 65 who were overweight, but otherwise healthy. The researchers added two tablespoons of culinary spices to the test meal, which consisted of chicken curry, Italian herb bread, and a cinnamon biscuit. The spice mix used was a blend of rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, cloves, garlic powder and paprika.
The second ‘control’ meal was identical, except that spices were not included.
After each meal, the team drew blood from the participants every 30 minutes for three hours, measuring the effects of each meal on the body.
Compared with the unseasoned meal group, the spicy meal increased antioxidant activity in the blood by 13 percent and decreased insulin response by 21 percent. Blood triglycerides also decreased by 30 percent compared with the unseasoned meal group.
“Normally, when you eat a high-fat meal, you end up with high levels of triglycerides, a type of fat, in your blood,” explains West. “If this happens too frequently, or if triglyceride levels are raised too much, your risk of heart disease is increased. We found that adding spices to a high-fat meal reduced triglyceride response by about 30 percent, compared to a similar meal with no spices added.”
This was a small, preliminary study, and further studies using a larger test group would help to clarify the results. West intends to conduct further research to find if smaller doses of spices exert similar benefits.
In the meantime, for those who enjoy cooking, adding culinary spices is a simple way to add ‘kick’ to your dishes, and may offer health benefits too. The active components of ingredients such as garlic and turmeric are available in supplement form, which can be a convenient option. Those who enjoy spicy foods can try adding fresh, grated ginger to stir frys. Turmeric goes well with chicken, rice and vegetable dishes, while its vibrant colour really helps to lift a dish. Rosemary and oregano are great in Italian dishes, in stews or with roasted vegetables. Finally cinnamon can be added to your morning oatmeal for a sweet and healthy way to start your day.
Written by Nadia Mason
1. A. C. Skulas-Ray, P. M. Kris-Etherton, D. L. Teeter, C.-Y. O. Chen, J. P. Vanden Heuvel, S. G. West. A High Antioxidant Spice Blend Attenuates Postprandial Insulin and Triglyceride Responses and Increases Some Plasma Measures of Antioxidant Activity in Healthy, Overweight Men. Journal of Nutrition, 2011; 141 (8): 1451 DOI: 10.3945/jn.111.138966.
2. Image courtesy of Michelle Meiklejohn.