UNIVERSITY PARK, PA – Generously seasoning your food with herbs and spices isn’t just a great way to make your meals tastier – new research has shown it may benefit your heart health as well.
In a controlled diet study, researchers found that seasoning foods with 6.5 grams, or about 1.3 teaspoons, of herbs and spices per day was linked to a drop in blood pressure after four weeks.
Penny Kris-Etherton, professor of nutritional sciences at Evan Pugh University, and Kristina Petersen, assistant professor of nutritional sciences at Texas Tech University and co-principal investigator of the study at Penn State, said that the results offer people a simple way to help improve their heart health.
“Adding herbs and spices to your food is a great way to add flavor without adding additional sodium, sugar, or saturated fat,” Kris-Etherton said. “And, if you take it a step further and add these seasonings to foods that are really good for you, like fruits and vegetables, you can potentially get even more health benefits from consuming this additional product.”
Cardiometabolic diseases like heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes continue to be one of the leading causes of death in the United States, researchers say. One of the ways that healthcare professionals aim to improve heart health is by monitoring and improving blood pressure.
One way that people can improve their blood pressure is to limit their sodium intake, usually by adding less salt to their meals. Petersen said that while people have long been encouraged to season their foods with herbs and spices instead of salt to enhance flavor without added sodium, less is known about the health benefits of herbs and spices.
“As nutritionists, we are interested in new ways to use diet to improve health, and cardiovascular health in particular,” said Petersen. “We were curious about how herbs and spices could affect heart health because they are versatile and can be added to many different types of food. “
For the study, the researchers recruited 71 people with risk factors for heart disease. Each participant consumed each diet of spices – a low, a moderate, and a high in herbs and spices – in random order for four weeks each, with a two-week break between each diet period. Blood samples were taken from each participant at the start of the study as well as after each diet period.
All three diets were based on an average American diet – mirroring what a typical American consumes in a day – but with three different doses of herbs and spices added. The low-dose, medium-dose, and high-dose regimens included approximately 0.5 grams, 3.2 grams, and 6.5 grams of herbs and spices, respectively, per day.
The doses included a blend of 24 different herbs and spices, ranging from basil and thyme to cinnamon and turmeric, designed to simulate how people use different herbs and spices throughout the day while cooking.
The researchers found that after consuming the diet that included a high dose of herbs and spices, participants had lower systolic blood pressure than after the medium dose diet. Participants also had lower diastolic blood pressure after the diet with a high dose of herbs and spices than after the diet with a low dose.
Kris-Etherton said the results – recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition – were particularly exciting for her, as the study’s diets were not designed to be specifically heart-healthy and did not differ from an average diet only by the amount of herbs and herbs. added spices.
“I think it’s really important that the participants consumed an average American diet throughout the study and we always found these results,” Kris-Etherton said. “We didn’t decrease sodium, we didn’t increase fruits and vegetables, we just added herbs and spices. This begs the question: If we changed the diet in this way, how much better would the results be? “
The researchers said that in the future, additional studies designed to incorporate herbs and spices into a healthy diet containing less salt, added sugars and solid fats could help guide future dietary recommendations.
Kristin Davis, graduate student at Penn State; Connie Rogers, associate professor of nutritional sciences and physiology at Penn State; David Proctor, professor of kinesiology and physiology at Penn State; and Sheila West, professor of biobehavioural health at Penn State, also participated in this work.
The McCormick Science Institute and the National Institutes of Health helped support this research.