The Spice is Right

Antioxidant-packed and fat-inhibiting, seasonings offer so much more than a quick hit of flavor.

It is in the kitchen as it is in your workouts: The hotter, the better. Recent research reveals that incorporating herbs and spices into your diet may help stave off serious health problems like obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

In a new study from Penn State University, adding spices like turmeric, garlic powder and cinnamon to a high-fat meal caused the food to deposit 30 percent less triglycerides — a type of fat — into eaters’ bloodstreams. Over time, lower triglycerides can mean a lessened risk of coronary heart disease, explains Ann Skulas-Ray, a postdoctoral fellow at Penn State and an author of the study. Keeping the fat in check can also lower your risk of weight gain, since the body stores excesses in fat cells.

So how do spices do it? The researchers speculate that antioxidants may play a role.

“We often think of fruits and vegetables as the big sources of antioxidants, but in reality many spices rank higher,” says Toby Smithson RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In the Penn State study, the spicy meal increased antioxidant activity in subjects’ bloodstreams by 13 percent.

According to Smithson, spices’ benefits go beyond triglycerides. For example, a number of studies indicate that cinnamon works to regulate blood sugar — a key to preventing weight gain and diabetes. And garlic has been shown to lower cholesterol, another risk factor for heart disease. Diets rich in antioxidants may also slow or even prevent the development of cancer.

Besides providing a heavy antioxidant punch and long-term health benefits, Smithson says, spices can help slim your waistline immediately by allowing you to add flavor to your food without injecting calories from fat and sugar.

Here, some easy ways to spice up your life: