If you love tons of spices on your food, it looks like science has finally caught up to your taste buds. Researchers from Penn State have concluded that adding a blend of spices to just about any meal, no matter how high in fat or carbs, may have health benefits. More specifically, spicy meals help lower inflammation.
Spicy food is usually a matter of preference, but according to these findings, even those among us with the mildest of tastes should probably consider getting a bit more adventurous with their diet.
A group of participants was asked to eat a meal very high in fats and carbohydrates, but the food also featured six grams of a special spice blend concocted by the research team. After eating the spicy meal, all participants showed much less bodily inflammation than when they had eaten a similar dish with less or no added spices.
“If spices are palatable to you, they might be a way to make a high-fat or high-carb meal more healthful,” comments Connie Rogers, associate professor of nutritional sciences, in a university release. “We can’t say from this study if it was one spice in particular, but this specific blend seemed to be beneficial.”
So, what spices were used for the study? A special blend of cinnamon, black pepper, basil, bay leaf, coriander, cumin, ginger, oregano, parsley, red pepper, turmeric, thyme, and rosemary.
The study’s authors aren’t entirely sure which of those spices lowered participants’ inflammation, so you may just want to go for a blend the next time you’re cooking something up in the kitchen.
This isn’t the first time spices have shown anti-inflammatory properties; ginger and turmeric have displayed the ability to lower inflammation in prior research. Inflammation isn’t something to write off either; persistent and chronic bodily inflammation is associated with serious health conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.
After an individual eats a particularly fatty meal or enjoys lots of carbs as a snack, their inflammation levels can increase considerably in the short term. It’s not entirely agreed upon if such events contribute to long-term, chronic inflammation, but all signs point to at least somewhat of a relationship.
In a nutshell, inflammation is very unhealthy and contributes to some of the worst health outcomes imaginable. Luckily, however, it appears that the right mixture of spices can cut down immediate inflammation and perhaps even chronic inflammation.
“Ultimately the gold standard would be to get people eating more healthfully and to lose weight and exercise, but those behavioral changes are difficult and take time,” Rogers explains. “So in the interim, we wanted to explore whether a combination of spices that people are already familiar with and could fit in a single meal could have a positive effect.”
In all, 12 overweight or obese men between the ages of 40 and 65 took part in this study. Each man ate three versions of the same meal on three different days; one with no spices at all, one with two grams of the spice blend, and a third with six grams of the spice blend. To measure inflammation, blood was drawn before and after each meal.
“Additionally, we cultured the white blood cells and stimulated them to get the cells to respond to an inflammatory stimulus, similar to what would happen while your body is fighting an infection,” Rogers adds. “We think that’s important because it’s representative of what would happen in the body. Cells would encounter a pathogen and produce inflammatory cytokines.”
Across the board, the participants’ biomarkers for inflammation were much lower after the six-gram spice meal. While six grams may sound like a lot when it comes to spices, depending on how dehydrated the spices are, researchers say it should work out to somewhere between one teaspoon and one tablespoon.
There’s still a lot to uncover, and determining which spices are responsible for these benefits is priority number one, but just these preliminary results are huge. The study’s authors have found legitimate evidence that spices somehow mitigate the inflammation caused by carbs and fat.
It’s also worth mentioning that after eating the meal with six grams of spices, participants also enjoyed greater blood vessel flexibility afterward. Indicating that spices are also beneficial for blood flow and overall blood vessel health.
When it comes to being healthy and getting in shape, there usually isn’t a whole lot of fun involved. Sure, fitness centers and meal plans do their best to make exercise and dieting “fun,” but let’s face it: if perfect health and six-pack abs were attainable from the couch, no one would ever get up. This study is exciting because it suggests that spices, something we can all appreciate to a certain degree, can help make any meal just a little healthier.
The full study can be found here, published in the Journal of Nutrition.