July 16, 2012

A Reason to Season: Superfood Spices

By Katie Williams, Ivanhoe Health Correspondent

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- In the past, ancient civilizations valued spices and herbs for their mythical medicinal power. Now, new science is emerging about the protective properties of spices and herbs, and how you can turn your health around with a simple dash of seasoning to your meal.

"Taste is still the number one, it´s not a surprise, the number one influencer on why we choose what we choose to eat," Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RD, author of The SuperFoodsRx Diet: Lose Weight with the Power of SuperNutrients, told Ivanhoe. Because spices add flavor that common dishes usually lack, it´s an easy way to not only step up a meal, but increase lifespan as well. Recent studies exemplify how different spices can make your food and health come alive.

Cinnamon is commonly found in sweet treats, but it can actually have beneficial effects on blood sugar and metabolism according to recent research in the U.K. "Cinnamon contains many biologically active substances," Bazilian said.

A randomized, double-blind clinical trial was conducted to determine the blood glucose lowering effect of cinnamon on HbA1c, blood pressure and lipid profiles in people with type 2 diabetes. 58 type 2 diabetic patients who were treated only with hypoglycemic agents and with an HbA1c participated in the study, and more than 7% were randomly assigned to receive either 2g of cinnamon or placebo daily for 12 weeks. The study found that cinnamon supplementation in people with Type 2 diabetes showed significant decreases in fasting blood glucose, HbA1c, BMI, and both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

If you´re about to take a test or make a speech, put down your notepad because rosemary can help your memory. "Rosemary is gaining more and more research attention now," Bazilian said. "There´s antioxidant properties and increasing research looking into cognitive properties of rosemary, and some on vascular health as well."

Research at the Tai Sophia Institute tested the cognitive effects of rosemary using healthy, elderly subjects (65-90 years old). Participants drank various mixtures of rosemary in tomato juice at different time periods post-consumption. At the lowest dose of 0.75 g, participants demonstrated better test-taking in the following areas: word presentation, immediate word recall, picture presentation, simple reaction time, digit vigilance task, choice reaction time, and spatial working memory. A culinary dose of the herb seemed to provide the best performance, as negative effects were seen at the highest dose of 6 g.

Research by UCLA shows how to make grilling season healthier using a blend of popular spices.

"You can reduce some of those harmful compounds that are generating when you´re grilling animal proteins like fish, chicken or meat by what we add to the food."

Researchers seasoned half-pound burgers with a 1 ½ tbsp. blend of rosemary, oregano, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, paprika, and garlic. There was increased antioxidant activity, and the blend reduced production of potentially harmful oxidative byproducts like malondialdehyde by 71%. "When you add the spice and herb blend to the grilled product, it significantly reduces it in every single study I´ve seen."

Bazilian notes the many reasons why spices are beneficial. They pack a big antioxidant punch in a very compact package and they have plant-based origins, so technically they can be considered fruits and vegetables. Most importantly, they boost the flavor of foods while making it easier to replace salt, fat and sugar. "It´s a tasty way of bumping up your ingredients and bumping up the flavor of your meal."

Source:  Interview with Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RD, author of The SuperFoodsRx Diet: Lose Weight with the Power of SuperNutrients at the 2012 77th Florida Dietetic Association Annual Symposium, July 2012