Compelling evidence that herbs and spices found prevalent in many popular dishes can help ward off disease remains elusive but, according to the latest issue of Food Technology magazine, some small clinical trials raise the question of whether some positive health influence exists.
“Throughout recorded history, spices and herbs have been valued for their curative powers,” writes Roger A. Clemens, Ph.D., spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists and functional food expert with IFT. “The use of herbs and spices to treat or prevent [health conditions] is almost universal among non-industrialized societies.”
However, Clemens and co-author Peter Pressman, M.D., diet and health expert with IFT and a practicing internist, note that nearly 70 clinical studies on spices and their affect on cardiovascular health and cholesterol have yielded inconsistent results.
Some extracts of ginger, peppers, mint, and other flavorings exhibit natural anti-inflammatory properties in some cell and animal studies, while antioxidants found in oregano, dill, garlic and elsewhere may affect some cancer processes, the article states.
The key drawback for identifying spices’ actual influence on health may be in the relatively small amount that’s ordinarily added to food, the authors surmise. “The classic definition of spice is a substance used in nutritionally insignificant quantities for the purpose of flavoring,” they write.
Clemens and Pressman concur that existing studies linking herbs and spices to health maintenance are intriguing, and that larger studies that account for amounts eaten and body responses must be conducted to assess the true value of herbs and spices on cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and general health.