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ZOE Science And Nutrition Summary : Can spices improve your health?

Podcast: ZOE Science And Nutrition
7 min. read

— Description —

Kanchan Koya grew up in a house filled with wonderful fragrances from the spices simmering on her grandmother’s stove. In India, it was a common belief that spices were more than just pleasant tastes. Ancient wisdom said they had medicinal properties, and it was common for household medicine cabinets to store dried spices, not pills. Kanchan grew up to become a molecular biologist, studying in the US at Harvard Medical School. When her lab began to investigate turmeric’s healing properties, the ancient wisdom from her childhood met the scientific inquiry of her adult life - beginning a lifelong obsession with the health benefits of spice. In today’s episode, Kanchan and regular guest Tim Spector help us understand whether there is any scientific evidence to support the health benefits of spices, the easiest way to add spice to our diet, and which ones to choose. Kanchan Koya is the founder of SpiceSpiceBaby and The Radical Vitality Podcast with a Ph.D. in Biomedicine from Harvard University and training from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. Tim Spector is a co-founder at ZOE and one of the top 100 most cited scientists in the world. Download our FREE guide — Top 10 Tips to Live Healthier:

Can spices improve your health?

Key Takeaways

  • Spices have been used for their medicinal properties for centuries, and modern science is now validating their health benefits
  • Polyphenols found in spices like turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and blood sugar regulating effects
  • Pairing turmeric with black pepper is important for enhancing its benefits, as piperine in black pepper slows down the clearance of turmeric by the liver
  • Adding spices to existing foods, such as oatmeal, avocado toast, and eggs, can make them more flavorful and provide health benefits
  • Cooking with spices by exposing them to fat and heat can enhance their flavor and health properties
  • It is recommended to buy whole spices and dry toast them before grinding to preserve their aroma and polyphenols
  • However, it is important to be cautious about the source of spices, as some brands have been found to contain worrying levels of heavy metals
  • Future studies are needed to further understand the health benefits of spices, and mass intervention studies are being considered to explore the effects of spice consumption on health
  • Zoe, a company aiming to improve the health of millions, is conducting a large-scale nutrition science study to understand the right food for each individual to improve health and manage weight

1. Exploring the Health Benefits of Spices and Herbs

  • Ancient wisdom said spices had medicinal properties and it was common for household medicine cabinets to store dried spices
  • Kanchan Koya, a molecular biologist, began investigating turmeric's healing properties, merging ancient wisdom with scientific inquiry
  • According to Kanchi Dasaswamy, the formal scientific definition of an herb or a spice is the leaf, root, bark, berry, bud, seed, or stigma of a plant or flower used for cooking purposes
  • India is obsessed with spice, and it's an integral part of every Indian household's kitchen and natural medicinal foods
  • Realization of the power of ancient components in food that is now being validated by modern science

2. The Role of Spices in Regulating Inflammation and Gut Health

  • There is increasing evidence that polyphenols in culinary amounts may have real benefits in addition to their in vitro characteristics
  • Spices and superfoods are not magic bullet solutions for health problems
  • Incorporating a polyphenol rich spice like turmeric can support healthy inflammation
  • Spices contain anti-inflammatory compounds that affect different players in inflammation
  • Spices have different components that may work together to have a synergistic effect on inflammation
  • Regular consumption of chilies is associated with a decrease in proteobacteria, the inflammatory ones, and an increase in acomancia, which is linked to good health, metabolism, and weight loss
  • Using the whole spice instead of the concentrated version is better for overall healthy dietary pattern
  • Pairing turmeric with black pepper is important due to the poor bioavailability of curcumin

3. Specific Health Benefits of Turmeric, Black Pepper, Cinnamon, and Ginger

  • Piperine, found in black pepper, can slow down the clearance of turmeric by the liver.
  • A small amount of black pepper is sufficient to enhance the benefits of turmeric.
  • Cinnamon has been heavily studied for its ability to balance blood sugar.
  • Research studies show that cinnamon can reduce blood glucose levels and regulate A1C.
  • Adding a teaspoon of cinnamon to rice pudding reduced the blood sugar spike.
  • True cinnamon has little to no levels of coumarin, making it a safer option for regular consumption.
  • Sumac, with its beautiful purple hue, contains anthocyanins which have anti-inflammatory and cardiovascular protective effects.
  • Ginger has benefits for inflammation management and digestion.
  • There's a huge body of evidence growing around ginger's benefits.

4. Incorporating Spices into Daily Foods for Health Benefits

  • Don't try to change your diet to accommodate spices, add spices to your existing foods.
  • You can take your daily favorites like oatmeal, avocado toast, and eggs, and add spices like cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cumin, coriander, and chili to make them more flavorful.
  • Avocado toast can be spiced up with cumin, coriander, chili, and lime juice for a Mexican nacho flair
  • Sesame seeds, black onion seeds, and fennel seed can also be added to avocado toast for variety
  • Fruit and yogurt can be enhanced with nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, and clove for different flavors
  • Clove is particularly nice in the winter months and has the highest polyphenolic content per gram among spices
  • Trials show that clove works as an anesthetic for toothaches
  • Adding spices to daily favorite foods in simple ways can be beneficial
  • You can have spice forward foods that aren't hot at all.
  • Definitely sprinkling an already ground spice onto your avocado toast is a great starting point and you're still getting those polyphenols
  • Turmeric and curcumin are activated when exposed to heat
  • Traditional cultures often add turmeric to a fat source like ghee or oil and let the spice bloom in the fat for 30 to 60 seconds to enhance the bioavailability of curcumin
  • Adding spices at the beginning of cooking is a general rule, but there are exceptions

5. Maximizing the Benefits of Cooking with and Storing Spices

  • Adding spices at the beginning of cooking improves the taste and health properties
  • Exposing polyphenols to fat and heat is beneficial, which is how traditional cultures cook with spices
  • Layering spices during the cooking process can enhance the flavor and provide a different nuanced aspect of flavor
  • Ancient wisdom of layering spices in cooking may have health benefits, in addition to enhancing taste
  • Direct sourcing of single origin spices from farms is becoming popular
  • Buying whole spices and dry toasting them before grinding can preserve the aroma and polyphenols better than ground spices
  • Spending just 50% more on spices can provide a lot of advantages
  • Recent report found worrying levels of heavy metals in some brands of spices and herbs
  • Spices can affect our health because they are full of polyphenols and feed our microbes

6. Future Studies on Spice Mix and Zoe Science in Nutrition

  • I think there's all sorts of exciting future studies to look at some of these spices in more detail.
  • Do you think we might have more to talk about in a year or two in this area?
  • I'd love to do some mass intervention studies where everyone takes a spice mix for a couple of weeks on their main meals and see what those effects are.
  • It could be life-changing for many people.
  • Would you like to be involved in that, Kanchan?
  • Absolutely, count me in.
  • There's just not enough people who've been involved in these studies
  • There's just not enough scale to understand it
  • Maybe there'll be some listeners who are excited to participate
  • Zoe aims to improve the health of millions by understanding the right food for each individual to improve health and manage weight
  • Each member starts with an at-home test, comparing them with participants in the world's largest nutrition science study