Spices, Herbs Boost Health for Diabetics

FRIDAY, Oct. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Spices may do more than flavor your food: New research suggests a shake of this and a pinch of that could also boost the health of diabetics.

Researchers bought 24 herbs and spices and found that many appear to have the power to inhibit tissue damage and inflammation brought on by high blood-sugar levels in the body.

The study didn't examine the direct effects of spices on diabetics. Also, spices are typically used in small amounts, making it unclear if those who eat them would get much benefit.

Still, "this gives people a tool to work with in terms of keeping their health as they want it to be," said study co-author James Hargrove, an associate professor at the University of Georgia.

Hargrove and his colleagues were intrigued by spices because they're rich in antioxidants, which are thought to protect cells from damage. "One can put a lot of antioxidant power into meals by using spices" without making people fatter, he said. "Because of the way they're prepared, herbs and spices tend to have low calorie contents."

In addition, spices are cheaper than many other food products, he said.

The researchers decided to look into the anti-inflammatory properties of spices. "We said, 'Let's just go to Wal-Mart, get all the McCormick brand spices we can find, and check those. That was as complicated as our study design was."

The findings appear in a recent issue of the Journal of Medicinal Food.

In laboratory tests, the researchers found that many of the spices and extracts appeared to inhibit a process known as glycation, which has been linked to inflammation and tissue damage in diabetics.

The spices that seemed most likely to help diabetics included cloves, cinnamon (previously pegged as a possible blood-sugar reducer), allspice, apple pie spice and pumpkin pie spice, Hargrove said. Top herbs included marjoram, sage and thyme.

Other spices and herbs were "still rich compared to other foods" when it comes to the effect, he said.

Lona Sandon, national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, said that while research does suggest that spices are high in antioxidants and may reduce blood-sugar levels, it's difficult to make recommendations about how much to use.

Even so, "I say add as much herbs and spices as your taste buds and tummy can take," she said. "They add flavor and fun to foods without adding calories or fat. Their potential for promoting health outweighs any risks, unless, of course, you have an allergy to a particular spice."

More information

Learn about the history of spices from the University of California at Los Angeles.

SOURCES: James Hargrove, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Foods and Nutrition, The University of Georgia, Athens; Lona Sandon, ME.d., R.D., assistant professor, University of Texas Southwestern, Dallas, and national spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association, Dallas; June 2008, Journal of Medicinal Food

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