Spices to boost your health

Consumer Reports on Health: January 2009

A tablespoon of fresh oregano has as much antioxidant activity as an apple.

Spicing up foods enhances flavor without adding any fat, salt, or sugar. Moreover, spices may also contain various disease-fighting phytonutrients, or healthful plant-based chemicals, recent research suggests.

Allspice, cinnamon, and cloves, for instance, have significantly more antioxidant power than blueberries. A tablespoon of oregano has about the same antioxidant capacity as an apple. And University of Georgia researchers who analyzed 24 common spices found that most of them neutralized inflammatory substances that may contribute to cardiovascular disease.

Here's an update on some of the other promising findings.

Turmeric

Possible benefits: Alzheimer's prevention and control, by reducing the buildup of destructive proteins in the brain, and cancer prevention, by preventing malignant cells from multiplying.

Evidence: Alzheimer trials are continuing at UCLA and Louisiana State University. And the National Cancer Institute has funded seven cancer-related trials, including one at the University of Pennsylvania testing the ability of curcumin, the substance that gives the spice its yellow color, to prevent colon-cancer recurrence. Most studies have looked at doses that are equivalent to about 4 teaspoons a day.

Sage

Possible benefit: Improved cognitive performance, by buoying levels of acetylcholine, a chemical that is produced by the brain.

Evidence: A study of 42 people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's found improved cognitive function in those who consumed the equivalent of about 1.5 teaspoons of sage a day. Other research, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is now under way.

Cinnamon

Possible benefit: Diabetes prevention and management, by controlling blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, and boosting insulin sensitivity.

Evidence: Just a half-teaspoon daily for 40 days may reduce blood sugar and triglyceride levels by up to 25 percent, some studies suggest. But don't go overboard, since too much may harm the liver.

Chili pepper

Possible benefit: Weight control, by boosting metabolism and suppressing appetite.

Evidence: Several studies show that people eat less when meals are spiced with about half a teaspoon of chili. In several other trials, consuming the equivalent of about 4 to 5 teaspoons of chili pepper seemed to boost calorie-burning metabolism, especially in people who weren't overweight.


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