HEART
September 1, 2011

Lean and Spicy

When fatty foods are seasoned with herbs and spices, their effects on triglycerides and insulin levels are lessened.

There seems to be a way to offset some of the damage of eating a meal high in fat. Normally, after eating a high fat meal, the level of circulating fats, or triglycerides, increase in the bloodstream. High triglyceride levels can raise the risk of heart disease. A new study suggests that adding certain spices to a high fat meal may reduce triglyceride levels.

Study participants had a 13 percent increase in antioxidant activity in the blood and a 20 percent decrease in insulin response. Triglyceride response was reduced by about 30 percent.

Researchers at Penn State prepared meals on two different days for six men between the ages of 30 and 65 who were overweight but healthy. The test menu consisted of chicken curry, Italian herb bread, and a cinnamon biscuit. Two tablespoons of spices, including rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, cloves, garlic powder, and paprika, were included in each meal. The control menu consisted of the same food items except the spices were not used.

After eating the spicy meal, blood was drawn from the participants every 30 minutes for three hours.

Study participants had a 13 percent increase in antioxidant activity in the blood and a 20 percent decrease in insulin response. Triglyceride response was reduced by about 30 percent. None of the participants experienced any stomach problems with the highly spiced meal.

The spices used in the study are spices that have been shown to have antioxidant activity under controlled conditions in a lab. Oxidative stress in the body is widely believed to contribute to heart disease, arthritis and diabetes, and this study suggests that antioxidant spices added to food can help to reduce that stress and therefore reduce the risk of developing these chronic diseases. The antioxidant content of the spices used in the test meal was equivalent to 5 ounces of red wine or 1.4 ounces of dark chocolate.

Shelia West, associate professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State and lead researcher of the study, says she plans to study whether similar effects can be achieved with smaller quantities of spices.

The study was published in the August 2011 issue of the Journal of Nutrition.

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