Can antioxidant-rich spices counteract the effects of a high-fat meal?

Can antioxidant-rich spices counteract

In this month’s Journal of Nutrition, researchers at Penn State report on their experiment in which overweight men were fed a high-fat (chicken) meal with or without a healthy dose of herbs and spices such as cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and oregano. This was to see what effect they might have on antioxidant status and metabolism. The reason they chose spices is because they’re among the most concentrated sources of antioxidants, as I’ve covered in previous videos (though it probably didn’t hurt that the study was funded by the McCormick® spice company).

Not surprisingly, the spice group experienced a doubling of the antioxidant power in their bloodstream compared to those eating an otherwise identical meal without spices. Remarkably, though, the spice group experienced a reduction in postprandial (after a meal) lipidemia (fat levels in the blood)–30% lower triglyceride levels (click here for a larger view). Over time, this could decrease heart disease risk. The researchers conclude with the sentence: “Therefore, the incorporation of spices into the daily diet may help normalize postprandial disturbances in glucose [sugar] and lipid [fat] homeostasis [control] while enhancing antioxidant defense.” Why experience such disturbances in the first place, though? Yes, another new study found, it’s particularly important for those who smoke to eat lots of greens to reduce cancer risk, but it needn’t be one or the other. An antioxidant-rich plant-based diet offers the best of both worlds.

To exaggerate the effects of the spices in the study, the researchers instructed the control group to eat a diet especially low in antioxidants. So they could eat all the meat, dairy, and eggs they wanted, white bread and pasta too, as long as it was “not whole grain,” and rice as long as it was “not…brown.” They could have soup, as long as they “avoid[ed] listed veggies.” The only vegetables that were allowed in unlimited quantities were iceberg lettuce and cucumbers.

In my new video-of-the-day today, I pit iceberg lettuce against the best animal foods have to offer, with some surprising results. For example, which has more antioxidants: eggs or Coca Cola®? There is a meat that can beat out iceberg lettuce, but even ox livers–the wild blueberry of the animal kingdom–pale in comparison to the antioxidant content of a candy bar.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

Image credit: timsackton / Flickr

More blogs about the antioxidant spice study:
How spicy food can benefit metabolism
Spices reduce insulin, triglycerides after a fatty meal
Antioxidant spices…reduce negative effects of high-fat meal

  • I think this may explain how East Indians can eat so much ghee, white flour naan and white rice and maintain slender, healthy bodies (in general). I do love tumeric.

    • Michael Greger M.D.

      Tragically, the chronic disease burden in India is rapidly increasing thank in part to the Westernization of their diets, but you’re absolutely right that spices are one of the components of their traditional diets thought to be protective.

  • Mike Quinoa

    Hi Dr. Greger,

    Many thanks for this truly amazing and groundbreaking website.

    I was wondering if you could discuss fiber. People on a good veg diet normally take in lots of the stuff, but I was wondering if you can have too much of a good thing, with possible negative impacts on the effectiveness of your digestion and nutrient assimilation?

    Got one of your DVD’s recently and have watched and enjoyed it numerous times. Please keep up your extremely important work.

    • Michael Greger M.D.

      I do have a few videos on fiber, but given its importance I should do more. Thanks for your suggestion–keep an eye on the site and I’ll post some fiber videos soon.

      • Mike Quinoa

        Thank you!

        • Michael Greger M.D.

          Love your last name :)

          • Mike Quinoa

            Thanks. I had my name for breakfast this morning, along with blueberries, almonds, and unsweetened organic soy milk (lol).

          • Michael Greger M.D.

            Wow–power breakfast! Sounds delish.

  • Michael, Have you heard of “The Indian Slow Cooker” book by Anupy Singla?? It is NEARLY vegan and You don’t need oil. She uses dried beans in the recipes and all the super, healing spices. The recipes are SIMPLE and tasty and cheap. I have blogged through many of them. I actually had kind of given up cooking, leaning more toward raw foods, until her book came out and then I cooked slow cooker food everyday. But it is like a miracle book for people who don’t want to spend a lot, as you can buy organic dried beans, and the veggies for next to nothing. PLUS she is coming out with an ALL vegan book next year, as she eats mostly vegan anyway. But her current book is so perfect for busy people who say they have no time to eat anything healthy and who have no money. And she is getting into health, as many peeps she knows do have troubles from the dairy laden Indian food.

    • Michael Greger M.D.

      Sounds delicious–thanks so much for the tip! Anyone else have any favorite cookbooks they want to share?

  • MsAdventuress

    Oh my…back when I was eating SAD, I poo-poo’d spices!

    To help me prepare food that is as fresh/full of nutrients as possible, I reference Dr. Gabriel Cousens’ recipes in his book: Rainbow Green, Live-Food Cuisine

    • Michael Greger M.D.

      Not familiar with that one, but I added a library link to it. Indeed, in some ways the more colorful and flavorful one’s diet is the healthier it may be!

  • Cyndy

    Cookbooks! Started out with the recipes in Esselstyn‘s Prevent or Reverse Heart Disease, then added The New McDougall Cookbook. These were wonderful teachers for a beginner. More recently I am really enjoying Veganomicon by Moskowitz & Romero, 2 vegan chefs — Appetite for Reduction, also by Isa Chandra Moskowitz — and Color Me Vegan by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau . These latter 3 do have some fats for sauteeing and some salt, but it’s easy to adjust for it.

    • Michael Greger M.D.

      Can’t wait to hit the library–thanks!

  • Tobias Brown

    As a big fan, I just learned that there is no concrete scientific evidence that antioxidants positively effect human health. Is this true?