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Eating a meal that is high in saturated fat and refined carbohydrates increases blood glucose and blood lipid levels. In turn, the body launches an inflammatory response. Chronic inflammation is associated with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Findings from a new study suggest that adding a spice mixture to a high fat/high sugar meal can dampen the body’s inflammatory response, potentially reducing the associated risk of cardiovascular disease.

Spices are derived from the seeds, roots, bark, or flowers of plants. Research indicates that spices contain bioactive compounds that exert antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory effects.

The crossover, randomized, controlled trial involved 12 middle-aged men who were overweight or obese and had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Each of the men consumed three versions of a high-saturated fat, refined carbohydrate meal, providing approximately 1,000 calories per meal, separated by a three-day washout period. One meal contained no additional spices, one contained a 2-gram spice blend (representing low spice intake), and one contained a 6-gram spice blend (representing high spice intake, roughly one teaspoon to one tablespoon). The spice blend contained a mixture of spices and herbs commonly consumed in the American diet, including basil, bay leaf, black pepper, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, ginger, oregano, parsley, red pepper, rosemary, thyme, and turmeric. The participants provided blood samples before and multiple times after consuming the meals.

The blood samples revealed that consumption of the meal containing the 6-gram spice blend reduced levels of pro-inflammatory proteins IL-1 beta, IL-8, and TNF-alpha. At six hours after consuming the 6-gram spice meal, levels of IL-1 beta were more than 1,300 percent lower than after consuming the meal without spices or with 2 grams of spices. IL-1 beta is a proinflammatory cytokine produced by macrophages and is an important mediator of the body’s inflammatory response.

These findings suggest that consumption of spices can mediate the proinflammatory effects of a high-saturated fat, refined carbohydrate meal. Nutritional interventions that emphasize the consumption of spices might reduce inflammation and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease associated with unhealthy diets.

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