Spice Up Your Life

By: Lisa Costa Bir, Naturopath

"Spice up your life!". Yes, it is the title of a song by now defunct English pop group the Spice Girls but it's also what researchers at Penn University are suggesting you do, particularly if you're about to eat a high fat meal.

The health benefits of herbs and spices have been touted for thousands of years, "Eat garlic for heart health (& bad breath!), drink ginger tea to help relieve arthritis and what about some sage for those hot flushes". Now researchers have observed that eating a diet rich in herbs and spices may reduce the body's negative response to eating a high-fat meal.

Six overweight but otherwise healthy males aged between 30 & 65 years old were given meals on two separate days. Two tablespoons of a culinary herb & spice mix containing rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, cloves, garlic powder and paprika were added to each serving of the test meals (lets call it meal 1), which consisted of chicken curry, Italian herb bread, and a cinnamon biscuit. The control meal (meal 2) was exactly the same except that the herb and spice mix was not included with the meal.

The researcher noted that when the men consumed the meal containing the herbs & spices (meal 1), beneficial results were observed including:

  • Antioxidant activity in the men's blood was increased by 13%
  • Triglyceride (a type of fat) response was decreased by about 30%
  • Insulin response decreased by about 20%

    It is known that oxidative stress is implicated in many disease conditions & to think we can somewhat help counteract it just by adding a mere 2 tablespoons of tasty and enjoyable herbs and spices to our daily food (as evidenced by the increased antioxidant activity in the men's blood after meal 1) is heartening to say the least.
    Additionally, the fact that the herb and spice blend decreased the participant's insulin response is great news for those who suffer from diabetes, metabolic syndrome or any other condition with poor blood sugar control since insulin instability is associated with these conditions.
    Similarly those at risk of heart disease will also be happy to note that the herb & spice mix reduced triglyceride response since elevated triglycerides are associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

    The researchers believe that the herb and spice mix exerted its therapeutic effects with regards to insulin & triglycerides as a result of the antioxidant activity of the herbs & spices. Lets have a look at which herbs and spices have the highest antioxidant activity. Here are the top 10 according to their Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) value, a unit of measurement for antioxidants developed by the National Institute on Aging in the National Institutes of Health (NIH):

    Cloves, ground290,203
    Oregano, dried175,295
    Rosemary, dried165,280
    Thyme, dried157,380
    Cinnamon, ground131, 420
    Turmeric, ground127,068
    Vanilla Beans, dried122, 400
    Sage, ground119, 929
    Szechuan pepper, dried118, 400
    Parsley, dried73, 670

    For those of you who spend a lot of money of super foods such as Acai, Goji & Inca berries you may be interested to know that the herbs & spices listed above cost a fraction of the price compared to their expensive super food alternatives and also contain a higher antioxidant, though of course it is unlikely that you would eat as many cloves as you could Goji berries.
    So there you go, if you're one to shy away from using herbs and spices don't hold back, not only do they taste great & are packed with antioxidants but they're also quietly exerting a therapeutic action inside your body. Try turmeric, cloves, garam masala and coriander in a dhal or curry or how about cloves, nutmeg & cinnamon in some stewed fruit? If you're still confused about how to use Turmeric or how best to use cinnamon type it into the Food Coach database for lots of great recipe ideas.

    For really fresh spice mixes try your local Indian grocery store or Herbies spices who can be found online at http://www.herbies.com.au


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