Spices' Health Boost

October 21/Atlanta/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution -- It turns out that a pinch of red pepper or dash of curry powder not only turns up the heat to boost flavors in dishes, but it also can add a helping of health benefits, too.

Nutrition research supports new reasons to season dishes with herbs and spices, including cinnamon, ginger, oregano, red pepper and yellow curry powder. Blueberries, pomegranates and other deeply colored fruits may be famous for their high antioxidant content, but it turns out that some spices rank really high, too.

One teaspoon of cinnamon has the disease fighting antioxidant power of a full cup of pomegranate juice or half cup of blueberries. The specific kind of antioxidant compounds found in cinnamon called polyphenols have been shown to help regulate blood sugar levels and fight inflammation, which can increase the risk for heart disease and diabetes.

Feel even better about the cinnamon sprinkled on your oatmeal? However, do not try to use this spicy news to help justify downing one of those huge cinnamon buns at the mall. Controlling total fat and calories in the diet still reigns supreme as the most important rule in good nutrition. With that in mind, it is interesting to note that spices might come to the rescue there, too.

Red chile pepper gets heat from a powerful antioxidant compound called capsaicin. Spicing up a meal with red pepper flakes or hot chile sauces may also help increase satiety. Other studies found red peppers, even milder sweet red peppers, boost the metabolism to burn a few more calories. Other studies suggest that some seasonings such as cayenne pepper, chili powder and paprika may help curb hunger pangs and boost the metabolism, making it a bit easier to stick to a weight control diet.

Ginger has long been used as a natural remedy to soothe an upset stomach. Now research focusing on one of its active ingredients, gingerol, suggests it may work like anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin or ibuprofen.

Oregano has the highest antioxidant levels of the dried herbs because of its rosmarinic acid content. Used heavily in Mediterranean cuisines, oregano has antimicrobial powers that can help fight bacterial growth and may help inhibit the bacteria associated with ulcers.

Yellow curry powder is a blend of turmeric and other spices. Curcumin, the bright yellow pigment in turmeric, helps fight heart disease and may boost brain health, possibly protecting against Alzheimer's disease.

From the October 26, 2009, Prepared Foods E-dition