Image Credit: timsackton / Flickr. This image has been modified.

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

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.

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


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

15 responses to “Can antioxidant-rich spices counteract the effects of a high-fat meal?

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    1. 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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

    1. 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!

  3. 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.

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

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