According to Penn State researchers, eating a diet rich in spices, like turmeric and cinnamon, reduces the body's negative responses to eating high-fat meals. Sheila West, associate professor of biobehavioral health, Penn State, who led the study said that people eating a high-fat meal end up with high levels of triglycerides (a type of fat) in their blood.

West 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."

Published in the current issue of the Journal of Nutrition, the study included six overweight but otherwise healthy men aged between 30 to 65 years who were given meals prepared by West and her research team on two separate days.

The test meal consisted of chicken curry, Italian herb bread and a cinnamon biscuit with two tablespoons of culinary spicesadded to each serving, while the control meal was identical, yet without the added spices. Researchers then withdrew blood every 30 minutes for three hours from each participant.

Ann Skulas-Ray, postdoctoral fellow commented:

"In the spiced meal, we used rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, cloves, garlic powder and paprika, because these spices were selected due to their potent antioxidant activity previously under controlled conditions in the lab."

Patients consuming the meal containing the blend of antioxidant spices showed a 13 percent rise in antioxidant activity in the blood and had a 20 percent lower insulin response.

West stated, that many scientists believe that oxidative stress contributes to heart disease, arthritis and diabetes. She said that antioxidants, like spices, could play a significant role in reducing oxidative stress and therefore reducing the risk of chronic disease. She added that the amount of spices used in the trial provided the equivalent amount of antioxidants contained in 5 ounces of red wine or 1.4 ounces of dark chocolate.

According to Skulas-Ray adding two tablespoons of spices to meals did not cause stomach upset in the participants. She said:

"They enjoyed the food and had no gastrointestinal problems," adding, "The participants were notified ahead of time that they would be eating highly spiced foods and they were willing to do so."

West wants to investigate whether she can get the same results by adding smaller doses of spices to meals in the future.

Fellow Penn State researchers on the paper include Ann Skulas-Ray, graduate student; Penny Kris-Etherton, Distinguished Professor of Nutrition; Danette Teeter, former research assistant; and John Vanden Heuvel, professor of veterinary science as well as Chung-Yen (Oliver) Chen, scientist, Tufts University. The McCormick Science Institute and National Institutes of Health supported the study.

Written by Petra Rattue