Spices are precious allies in the kitchen! And we're not just talking about their contribution in terms of color and aromas, but also, and above all, about health. In fact, adding spices to culinary preparations can help keep blood sugar and triglycerides under control, even when the meal is abundant and high in fats and sugars, but it also helps improve memory, both short-term and long-term. This emerges from two scientific studies. The first research was published in The Journal of Nutrition by an American team from Pennsylvania State University (Skulas Ray et al, JN, 2011), the second research was instead presented at the annual meeting of the American Physiological Society, held in Orlando, Florida, between 6 and 9 April 2019 (Behera et al, Experimental Biology meeting, Orlando, Apr 2019).
Spices and a diet rich in fats, an aid to the heart
The first research analyzed the effects of spices in the case of overweight and a diet rich in fats and sugars. The study is very small, involving only 6 adult men, all overweight and aged between 30 and 65 years. In any case, the results are noteworthy. Volunteers were served the same high-fat meal consisting of chicken in coconut sauce, bread, cheese and biscuits for dessert for two successive days. The only difference was that on one of the two days the meal was prepared with the addition of two tablespoons of spices, especially rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, cloves, garlic and paprika. The spices were integrated into the preparation of the dishes and did not cause gastrointestinal problems in the volunteers. Instead, as emerged from blood tests performed every thirty minutes for three hours after the meal, the spices allowed, compared to the meal without spices, to increase circulating antioxidants by 13%. Not only that, the spices improved insulin sensitivity, thus helping to keep blood sugar under control, and reduced by 30% the triglyceride levels released in response to the meal. In fact, after a high-fat meal, triglycerides increase. If this happens often or the triglyceride level rises too much the risk of developing a cardiovascular problem increases. Thus, the spices have helped to protect heart health.
Garlic for memory
But spices don't just protect the health of the heart. The second study we are talking about today allowed us to show that regular consumption of garlic improves memory, even in the elderly. The study took place in the laboratory on a population of mice. The age of the mice was two years, equivalent to a human age between 56 and 69 years. Half of the mice were given garlic and what emerged was that garlic allowed, compared to the mice that hadn't taken it, to improve both short-term and long-term memory. The benefits were related to changes in the gut microbiota. In fact, an advanced age has the effect of impoverishing the intestinal microbiota while garlic has made it possible to further diversify the intestinal bacteria and favor the good ones. Well, these changes to the microbiota activated a series of processes that led to an increase in the levels of a protein, called NDNF, or Neuron Derived Neurotrophic Factor, in mice that had taken garlic. In fact, a reduction in the levels of this substance is associated with cognitive impairment.
Flavoring your dishes with spices, always without exaggerating, allows you to enrich the preparations with aromas but also, as we have seen, with great health. Turmeric, curry, cloves, rosemary, oregano, paprika, pepper, garlic and cinnamon protect the heart, help us keep cholesterol and blood sugar under control and also improve our cognitive function!