Some spices are valued for their taste. They help to sharpen the taste of many foods. Others are chosen for their smell. Still others were used traditionally for health reasons.
American researchers have found that a diet rich in spices can help reduce the harmful effects of eating high fat meals. Researchers at Pennsylvania State University reported the findings.
Penn State Associate Professor Sheila West led an investigation of the health effects of a spice-rich diet. Her team knew that a high-fat meal produces high levels of triglycerides, a kind of fat, in the blood.
She said, “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.”
They found that antioxidant activity in the blood of the men who ate the spicy meal was 13 percent higher than it was for the men who did not. In addition, insulin activity dropped by about 20 percent in the men who ate the spicy food.
Sheila West says many scientists think that oxidative stress leads to heart disease，arthritis and diabetes. Professor West says, “Antioxidants, like spices, may be important in reducing oxidative stress and thus reducing the risk of chronic disease.” She adds that the level of spices used in the study provided the same amount of antioxidants found in 150 milliliters of red wine or about 38 grams of dark chocolate.
Other research shows that capsaicin helps suppress the buildup of body fat. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that capsaicin may help to reduce adbominal fat. Study organizers said the reduction possibly takes place because the spice changes some proteins found in fat, causing them to break down the fat.
Researchers in Virginia discovered that curcumin, a substance found in turmeric, stopped the Rift Valley Fever virus from reproducing in infected cells. The sometimes deadly virus is carried by mosquitos. It can affect human beings and some farm animals like cattle and goats.
A study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry found that curcumin improves the effectiveness of chemotherapy in breast cancer patients. And it has possibilities for development into a drug that can help with chemotherapy.
One spice that often is at the top of a healthy spices list is cinnamon. It comes from the inner bark of several trees and is used in both sweet and savory cooking. For centuries cinnamon has been used in traditional medicine. Now, it is earning respect in the medical field.
German researchers found that cinnamon can reduce blood sugar by 10 percent. They were not sure why, but said it could be that substances in cinnamon activate enzymes that excite insulin receptors. Research also shows the spice can help lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, blood fats that may cause diabetes.
Spices are not used just to lessen unwanted chemical effects. They make food taste better. Some spices also destroy bacteria. Spices have long been used to keep food safe to eat.