Antioxidant-rich spice mix shows potential for heart health

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Spice

Cooking hamburgers with a polyphenol-rich spice mix may reduce the content of compounds linked to heart disease and possible cancer, says a new study.

Using a spice mix similar to that used in the East Indian spice blend, researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles report that hamburgers were subsequently found to contain significantly lower levels of lipid-peroxidation products, claimed to produce off-flavours and linked to promotion of the processes of atherogenesis and carcinogenesis.

“The ingestion of high-fat foods that contain lipid-peroxidation products can lead to increases in plasma concentrations of malondialdehyde as well as other cytotoxic and genotoxic compounds,”​ explained the researchers, led by David Heber from UCLA’s Center for Human Nutrition.

Important questions remain unanswered

Commenting independently on the research Victoria Taylor, senior dietician at UK charity the British Heart Foundation, told FoodNavigator: "This is a small study which seeks to identify if the addition of herbs and spices to meat can not only affect its flavouring, but also its potential impact on heart disease.

"More research is needed to confirm the results seen here and to identify whether the same findings are observed for meats other than minced beef. The practicalities of how this would need to be translated into real diets outside of the research setting is also an important question.

"However, in the mean time, adding herbs and spices to food which is already a key recommendation to help people reduce the amount of salt in their diet, may have additional benefits for heart health,” ​added Taylor.

Spices for health

The study taps into the promotion of the antioxidant-activity of spices. Herbs and spices often come out on top when scientists measure the antioxidant activity of common foods. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition​ (Vol. 84, pp. 95-135) published in 2006 stated that cloves had the highest antioxidant content, according to the ferric reducing ability of plasma (FRAP) assay. The rest of the top five was also spices, with top-placed cloves followed by oregano leaf, ginger, cinnamon and turmeric.

The new study was funded by spices and seasonings company McCormick and Company, and involved 11 healthy volunteers. The participants consumed either burgers seasoned with a spice blend, or a plain burger in a randomised manner. Malondialdehyde (MDA) in the burger, and in the urine and blood of the participants was used to measure the degree of lipid oxidation.

Levels of MDA were reduced by 71 per cent in the spiced burger, compared with the plain burger, and this was associated with a 49 per cent reduction in urine levels of MDA following consumption of the spiced burger, compared with the plain burger.

“This study showed that spices that are rich in antioxidants may be useful when cooking meat products to reduce the formation of lipid-peroxidation products,” ​wrote Heber and his co-workers.

“The results also suggest that the lower concentrations of malondialdehyde observed in plasma and urine after ingestion of meat products seasoned heavily with antioxidant-rich spices may lead to reduced ​in vivo formation and action of lipid-peroxidation products relevant to the oxidant stress-related risk of heart disease and common forms of cancer,”​ they added.

Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.28526
“Antioxidant-rich spice added to hamburger meat during cooking results in reduced meat, plasma, and urine malondialdehyde concentrations”
Authors: Z. Li, S.M. Henning, Y. Zhang, A. Zerlin, L. Li, K. Gao, R-P. Lee, H. Karp, G. Thames, S. Bowerman, D. Heber
The study is available here​.

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