The McCormick company, which sells cooking herbs and spices, has conducted research into the antioxidant health benefits of culinary spices. Their results show that cooking with as little as two tablespoons of certain spices can increase your intake of antioxidants by a measurable amount. While one would normally be skeptical about manufacturer-sponsored studies that show products in a good light, independent studies back up the claims.The antioxidants in spices can be a powerful way to protect your body against disease.
How Antioxidants Help Keep You Healthier
A normal, healthy body creates something called free radicals every day. These free radicals are usually produced in small enough amounts that they don’t cause any noticeable health problems, but they do seem to play a large part in the aging process because they can help a body’s tissues break down more quickly. Researchers have found that antioxidants attach themselves to these free radicals and neutralize them so that they behave like normal atoms. Reducing the number of free radicals in your system tends to increase your body’s stability so that it can fight off illnesses more easily.
Antioxidants Generally Found in Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
Healthy bodies create their own antioxidants to keep the free radicals under control when you are younger, but the body’s antioxidant production tends to slow as you age. A good way to supplement your natural antioxidant production is to eat fruits and vegetables that are rich in antioxidants. Berries, nuts, and green leafy vegetables are excellent sources of antioxidants. Your body can only process antioxidants from natural sources, so you have to get them through eating or drinking the right foods. Over the counter vitamins or supplements are not useful sources of antioxidants.
Spices Provide More Concentrated Antioxidants
The McCormick study showed that dried culinary spices contain higher levels of antioxidants than you would find in a single fruit or vegetable source. Researchers in Australia discovered that a 1/2 teaspoon serving of cloves contained more antioxidants than a 1/2 cup serving of cranberries or blueberries. The same study showed you only need to eat 1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano to receive the same antioxidant benefit that you would receive from eating 1/2 cup of sweet potatoes. The concentrated nature of antioxidants in culinary spices makes it easier to consume adequate amounts of antioxidants without increasing your food intake.
Combinations of Spices and Vegetables can Increase Antioxidant Levels
An additional benefit of using culinary spices for antioxidants is that different combinations of spices can create exponential antioxidant increases. If you add antioxidant rich spices to foods that contain their own natural antioxidants, the antioxidant levels can complement one another to create a higher number of antioxidants than you would have gotten by eating the food or the spices separately. Scientists believe that the flavonoids in the foods react with the antioxidants in the herbs and spices to create this synergistic relationship, providing a more potent antioxidant source.
Some Spices Reduce Harmful Elements in Meats
Grilled meats contain elements like heterocyclic amines and malondialdehyde that can be harmful if ingested in large quantities. Using certain spices on the meats can cut down these elements significantly. A Kansas State University research study compared hamburgers cooked with spices to hamburgers cooked without spices and found that those with spices had up to 40% fewer heterocylclic amines than those without spices. The researchers attribute this difference in the elemental makeup of the cooked meat to the presence of antioxidants in the spices that were used. When researchers analyzed the urine of research subjects who ate both types of meat, those who consumed the spiced burgers had measurably less malondialdehyde than those who ate the burgers without spices.
Spices Could Protect against Problems from High Fat Meals
Another study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, shows that using spices can cause your body to react differently after you eat a high fat meal. Typically, you experience a sharp rise in triglyceride activity in your system immediately following a high fat meal. Researchers have found that adding certain culinary spices to the meal will slow down the triglyceride response, which could reduce the possibility of heart disease from eating foods that are high in fats. These preventative effects of antioxidant rich spices are not fully understood by scientists yet, but studies continue to prove that there is a connection between the body’s reaction to high fat foods and antioxidant rich spices.
Best Results with a Wide Variety of Antioxidants
All of the research results show that you will receive the best results by including a wide variety of antioxidants in your diet. Different types of spices, herbs, fruits, and vegetables each contain different antioxidant compounds. A good combination of foods will ensure that you receive the maximum benefit from all of the different compounds.