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For Heart Health, Spice It Up

A little more seasoning can boost your health in a variety of ways.


by Sarah Mahoney

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Some have always liked it hot. Now, a new study looking at people who eat plenty of spicy food has gotten nutrition researchers’ attention: Turns out that people who eat food with chili peppers once or twice each week reduce the risk of major diseases by 10%. And people who turn up the heat six or seven times a week are 14% less likely to get these illnesses, which include heart and respiratory diseases, as well as some types of cancer.

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While this research, based on 485,000 people in China, focused primarily on chili peppers, which contain capsaicin, a compound with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant powers, many other spices have been found to boost health. For one thing, spices increase food flavor so that people may use less salt and sugar, and even consume fewer calories. When they added a spice mixture to people’s meals, researchers from Pennsylvania State University found that it improved their post-meal blood lipids by as much as 30%. (The spice blend included garlic powder, rosemary, oregano, paprika, cinnamon, cloves, turmeric, ginger and black pepper.) One caveat: While it’s fine to go a little crazy while cooking, it’s possible to consume unhealthy levels of some spices, especially in pill form.

Try adding more of these five seasonings, adopting this new healthy habit today. 

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Cinnamon Besides its ability to pep up both sweet and savory recipes, cinnamon has been proven to help people with diabetes control glucose levels. New research shows it may even help non-diabetics keep blood glucose stable, especially after meals.

Dried cloves You may think of cloves just for holiday cookies or baked ham, but researchers say it’s one of the most antioxidant-rich spices. Try adding a pinch whenever you consider cinnamon—in oatmeal, for example, or fruit recipes.

Turmeric This bright yellow spice, which usually stars in curry dishes, is a proven anti-inflammatory, with benefits for everything from cognitive health to cancer prevention. (But talk to your doctor—turmeric has been shown to interfere with some types of chemotherapy.) Add it to soups and stews.

Cayenne Because it contains capsaicin, cayenne is linked with healthier hearts as well as lower rates of many diseases. The trick is to think beyond super-hot food recipes, or meat: Even people who don't normally like intense spices say a little bit can jazz up many vegetable recipes. 

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Garlic Technically, it’s a vegetable. But this wonder seasoning is associated with less inflammation and better heart health, not to mention fewer vampires. The American Institute for Cancer Research says it protects against stomach and colorectal cancer.