Michael Greger MD

Michael Greger MD

Posted August 23, 2011

Published in Health

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

Read More: antioxidants, chicken, cinnamon, cloves, Coca Cola, eggs, ginger, greens, lettuce, oregano, Penn State, plant-based diet, spices, triglycerides

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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 on (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 is 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 were told 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 on, 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.