Antioxidant, anti-inflammation, exercise recovery, heart health and more benefits from spices.

The same antioxidants that convinced doctors that fruit and vegetables help prevent heart disease and certain cancers are now known to be present in spices, and in larger quantities than was previously thought.

Recognizing the potential health benefits of spices, the American government has been analyzing the antioxidant content of herbs and spices and adding them to its USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) nutrient database.

Just adding herbs and spices to an otherwise balanced diet can provide benefits. USDA data shows that a half teaspoon of cumin equals the standard portion of red grapes or kiwi fruit for antioxidant potential. A teaspoon of dried ginger or paprika can match a portion of tomatoes or green pepper.

Analysis of some curry powder blends of spices by Australian and American researchers both determined that one teaspoonful is as powerful an antioxidant fix as portions of broccoli, spinach, red peppers, carrots and other high-scoring antioxidant vegetables dubbed ‘super-foods’.

On the sweeter side, one teaspoon of ground cinnamon or cloves packs in as much antioxidant power as a portion of blueberries, raspberries or cranberries.

Making regular use of spices and herbs is a healthy and economic way to enhance health and your cooking. Spices allow you to reduce salt, sugar and fat content and still have tasty food.

But not all spices are equal. According to the Journal of Nutrition there can be a 1,000-fold difference in antioxidant content. At the top of the chart are allspice, chilli, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, curry spice mixes, garlic, ginger, mustard, paprika and turmeric. Freshness is another factor. Proper storage is essential. Avoid buying spices that have been sitting on grocery shelves for who-knows-how-long or those exposed to light.

Ongoing research into the health benefits of spices

Ongoing research will follow other potential benefits. Antioxidants can reduce the risk of chronic inflammation involved both in heart disease and as a precursor to diabetes and certain cancers. We are interested to see if on a daily basis the culinary use of spices and herbs might mitigate the risk of chronic inflammation. Weight management is another area of interest because spicy chillies speed up metabolic rates.

One study relates to stress and inflammation. Stressful situations, such as public speaking and performing arithmetic calculations, increase inflammation and this study will determine whether such inflammation can be reduced or prevented by a meal containing spices.

Research is underway that will study the ability of a mixture of high-antioxidant spices to reduce stress-induced inflammation in moderately obese, middle-aged to elderly subjects. Another study is looking at the impact of spices on cardiovascular markers including blood pressure and arterial function.

Regularly eating ginger can also help reduce muscle pain after exercise. New research that will be presented this summer shows that healthy young subjects who consumed two grams of ginger per day for eight days experienced significantly less pain the day after exercise compared to subjects who received a placebo.

You don’t have to do vigorous exercise or a stressful job to benefit. If you just want to relax around the BBQ this summer, a newly published UCLA study about making burgers healthier, might be more pertinent. The study found that adding spice blends similar to our Moroccan rub or Fire & Brimstone reduced the formation of oxidized fats during cooking and digestion by 70 per cent.

These results suggest that high-antioxidant spices can reduce oxidation of harmful ‘bad’ cholesterol, the primary cause of atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries that leads to heart attack and stroke).

If burgers are not for you, using spice ‘rubs’  like the Epicentre’s True North by SW, Coffee Chile Rub or Chicken Love on steak, poultry and other meat, or marinating them in spice mixes before cooking can also reduce production of heterocyclic amines (HCAs), suspected carcinogens formed in muscle foods during high temperature grilling or cooking.

In studies at the Food Science Institute, Kansas State University, Caribbean herb and spice mixes like our Jerk Rub reduced HCA production by more than 80 per cent. Italian studies have shown that the addition of herbs such as lemon balm, marjoram and oregano to salad, and spices and herbs to salad dressing, increases their antioxidant activity significantly.

So spice up your life and head over to our new Online Spice Shop for a unique selection of blends and hard-to-find spices you are going to love (and they will love you back with health benefits)