Many spices are known for their antioxidant potential, that is, they are able to prevent the breakdown of other substances by oxidation. In this case, we are the other substance. Eating a diet beautified with spices, such as cinnamon or turmeric, reduces the body’s negative response to eating high-fat meals. Such dining experiences may have a cumulative toll in elevated triglyceride levels, a marker for increased risk of heart disease.
Penn State University researchers, under the guidance of Professor Sheila West, found that adding spices to a high-fat meal reduced triglyceride (TG) response by thirty percent, compared to a similar meal without spices. The team was looking for influence on postprandial cardiac markers by adding, “…14 g of a high antioxidant spice blend to a 5060-kJ (1200 kcal) meal…” wondering how and if plasma antioxidant status and metabolism would be affected. In a cross-over study, healthy overweight men were enlisted to eat either a control meal or a spiced meal. They swapped diets after a week’s hiatus between testing sessions. It was learned that, “The…oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) of plasma…was increased by spices,” and that, “The incorporation of spices into the diet may help normalize postprandial insulin and TG and enhance antioxidant defenses.” (Skulas-Ray. 2011)
Just because this is welcome news doesn’t mean we should jog to the fast-food joint and fill up on burgers and fries, and then swallow half an ounce of cinnamon candies. The detriments of high-fat meals are real and absolute. There’s no way to escape them, but it appears they can be mollified. And even then, we need to tread carefully. Prior to this report from Penn State, the U of Maryland was performing its own work on high-fat meals, looking into the ameliorative effects of fruit and vegetable phytonutrients, learning ultimately that the outcomes are favorables if consumed regularly before eating a fatty meal. This study, performed eight years earlier, concluded that daily use of a fruit/vegetable concentrate is able to reduce the immediate effects of a high-fat meal on the activity and function of blood vessels. (Plotnick. 2003) It added that taking a high dose of the antioxidant vitamins C and E immediately prior to a high-fat feast could blunt the effects, as well, although the scientists were more interested in the power of foods than in the power of supplements.
The danger of taking this good news to heart (no pun intended) is the accidental consumption of too many calories, which, themselves, are deleterious in high numbers. The inner lining of blood vessels, the endothelium, is grossly insulted by a fat attack, and the response happens so fast that it can be documented a couple of hours after eating. Blood vessels act abnormally after high-fat meals and fail to dilate in response to blood flow. This activity is attributed to oxidation and the immediate accumulation of triglyceride-rich lipoproteins. (Plotnick. 1997)
To the culinary purist, the general term, “seasonings,” might be more applicable, since spices come from the harder parts of a plant (seeds, roots, bark) and herbs come from the softer parts (leaves) and may be dried or fresh. Spices are more common to the Eastern and tropical countries; spices to the whole planet.
Antioxidant herbs were given a hierarchical order in a study parallel to the one at Penn State, where curries (curry chicken), Italian herbs (bread), and cinnamon (biscuits) were used. Superoxides are pro-oxidants that need to be attenuated. Herbs with such capability include, in descending order of efficacy, marjoram, rosemary, oregano, cumin, savory, basil, thyme, fennel, coriander, and ascorbic acid (vitamin C). (Kim. 2011) Though vitamin C is not exactly in the category, it is the frame of reference for antioxidant activity.
Since obesity is growing faster than your money market fund, you’ll still want to control calorie intake. Control portions and balance the meals. But if the occasion introduces high fat content, now you know how to handle it.
J Nutr. 2011 Aug;141(8):1451-7. Epub 2011 Jun 22. A high antioxidant spice blend attenuates postprandial insulin and triglyceride responses and increases some plasma measures of antioxidant activity in healthy, overweight men. Skulas-Ray AC, Kris-Etherton PM, Teeter DL, Chen CY, Vanden Heuvel JP, West SG.
J Am Coll Cardiol. 2003 May 21;41(10):1744-9. Effect of supplemental phytonutrients on impairment of the flow-mediated brachial artery vasoactivity after a single high-fat meal. Plotnick GD, Corretti MC, Vogel RA, Hesslink R Jr, Wise JA.
JAMA. 1997 Nov 26;278(20):1682-6. Effect of antioxidant vitamins on the transient impairment of endothelium-dependent brachial artery vasoactivity following a single high-fat meal. Plotnick GD, Corretti MC, Vogel RA.
Int J Mol Sci. 2011;12(6):4120-31. Epub 2011 Jun 21. Antioxidant activities of hot water extracts from various spices. Kim IS, Yang MR, Lee OH, Kang SN.
Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2011 Jan;51(1):13-28. Spices as functional foods. Viuda-Martos M, Ruiz-Navajas Y, Fernández-López J, Pérez-Alvarez JA.
Before you eat that burger stop and think... Just one high-fat meal can alter proper blood vessel functioning, according to a UM cardiologist Dr. Gary Plotnick
Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin. Vol. 24 (2001) , No. 10 1202 DPPH (1,1-Diphenyl-2-Picrylhydrazyl) Radical Scavenging Activity of Flavonoids Obtained from Some Medicinal Plants Masafumi OKAWA, Junei KINJO, Toshihiro NOHARA and Masateru ONO
Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2010 Oct;50(9):822-34. Cinnamon and health. Gruenwald J, Freder J, Armbruester N.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.