Spice Up Your Diet For Cardiovascular Health

Herbs and spices have been transforming both sweet and savory dishes, wowing our taste buds, for centuries. 

A little bit of cayenne, cumin, garlic, and chili powder can turn ground chicken into chicken tacos!

Add a bit of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves and ordinary pureed pumpkin can become a Thanksgiving dessert staple.

Rice takes on a delicious Indian flair with the addition of coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, and chilis. 

But, the purpose of these spice rack staples stems far past seasoning alone. 

It turns out, herbs and spices don’t just add flavor – they may also add years to your life!

From reducing inflammation and fighting disease, to vastly improving the health of your heart, your spice rack and herb garden serve a far greater purpose than simply adding flavor to your favorite dishes. 

That’s right, essentially science is flipping the notion that “variety is the spice of life” on its head, proving that life itself may be improved by a variety of herbs and spices! 

So then, what does science say? And, which herbs and spices provide the best boosts to your heart? 


Herbs, Spices, And Science

Recent studies have confirmed that the health of your heart can be improved with a simple, and delicious, practice…seasoning your food!

Two studies, specifically, have found a connection between the use of herbs and spices and lowered cholesterol and blood pressure. 

A huge benefit linked to many herbs and spices comes from their anti-inflammatory properties. And, as chronic inflammation can predispose you to a number of health concerns, namely heart disease, reducing this inflammation is crucial for optimal heart health. 

Concerning these recent findings, nutritionists are hopeful that future research will show positive long term effects. But for now, dosage, usage, and short term effects can be determined in regards to patients with both high cholesterol and high blood pressure. 

So, let’s delve into their findings and see how these items we use to season our foods can help in those two areas. 

Blood Pressure
Participants in the study consumed a traditional American diet with varying levels of “spice.”  Every 4 weeks, participants were subjected to increasing levels of seasoning in their food intake (ranging from low to medium to heavy levels of spice). 

The results: when consuming high levels of spice (herbs and spices), participants had reduced 24-hour blood pressure levels. 

But, as the diet consumed was a traditional American diet, and we all know this isn’t the healthiest way to eat, researchers believe the results could have been amplified with a healthier, more nutritious meal plan. 

Concerning cholesterol, the study involved participants with type 2 diabetes. 

Over the course of the study, these individuals were given supplements containing ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, curcumin, and curcuminoids as these spices are typically associated with healthy cholesterol levels. 

The findings here were said to need further review, looking more closely at dosage, but this research did show potential for these spices providing cholesterol lowering benefits to patients with both type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol levels. 

Herbs, Spices, And Heart Health

So, which seasonings provide the best benefits to your heart? 

While this recent research provides promising benefits to your cardiovascular health, this isn’t completely new news as some herbs and spices have frequently been in the limelight in regards to their heart health-boosting qualities. 

We’ll list those with the biggest heart-health benefits here, but before we do, let’s note a few important facts when it comes to seasoning: 

  • While adding herbs and spices to your meals often translates to healthy rewards, be careful when choosing items containing blends as these often contain high levels of sodium (a heart health nightmare) and even sugar (also detrimental to the health of your body). 
  • Store bought spice blends can also contain a laundry list of chemicals, namely preservatives and additives. These can also wreak havoc on your health.
  • Be a label reader when it comes to all things you put in your grocery cart (and your belly). Look for whole or single ingredient items. In other words, you want your cinnamon to only contain cinnamon.
  • Talk with your doctor before loading up on supplements containing herbs and spices. 

Now, let’s get down to some herb and spice specifics… 

Cayenne Pepper
When looking to improve your heart health, be sure to bring the heat! 

You can add cayenne pepper to soups, stews, or your morning plate of eggs. Add a dash to your favorite veggies, or even make a delicious (and spicy) cup of Mexican hot chocolate to enjoy while you improve your heart health. The possibilities are endless! 

Cayenne pepper’s spicy flavoring comes from capsaicin, and when it comes to its cardiovascular benefits, they are vast. 

Hot peppers, like cayenne, are already loaded with disease fighting antioxidants, but the capsaicin specifically offers a big help to your heart. 

Studies have shown capsaicin to: 

  • reduce inflammation in the body (a risk factor for heart disease)
  • increase good cholesterol levels
  • decrease bad cholesterol levels
  • improve circulation
  • improve irregular heart rhythm
  • reverse hardening in the arteries
  • lower blood pressure

How does capsaicin accomplish such feats? 

One way this hot spice works is by blocking a specific gene that causes arteries to contract. 

Capsaicin also facilitates proper blood flow by stimulating the release of vasodilators, which are compounds that open up your blood vessels.

I’ll admit, this one is by far my favorite! Cinnamon is soooo versatile and easy to incorporate into your diet every day. 

Add a teaspoon to your coffee (delicious), sprinkle some on bananas or apples, or use it to top oatmeal, yogurt, squash, and sweet potatoes. And, of course, when you’re baking, you can take your desserts from great to grand with the addition of this heart-health boosting powerhouse!

Studies have proven that cinnamon can increase blood flow by causing your blood vessels to relax. This, in turn, works to lower your blood pressure. 

These benefits are thought to be caused by cinnamon’s ability to help your body produce nitric oxide, which is what causes that initial increase in blood flow setting forth the chain reaction that results in improvements to your blood pressure (and heart health). 

Not just for warding off vampires, garlic has been proven to prevent clogged arteries, lower blood pressure, and improve circulation. 

The main component of garlic is a compound called allicin. When garlic is chopped or crushed, an enzyme is activated which produces allicin. 

This compound helps to widen arteries, causing blood to more freely flow, improving circulation. 

Some studies surrounding the use of garlic oil found it to be beneficial to patients who’d just undergone heart surgery or had recently suffered a heart attack. And, it has even been used as a treatment for heart failure. 

Garlic is also known for its anti-inflammatory properties, and reducing inflammation in the body is key to improving the health of your heart. 

No, not the island-stranded love interest of Gilligan, the root turned flavor-inspiration!

Ginger is a spice that has been used in traditional medicine for centuries, particularly in India and China, for its ability to both lower blood pressure and improve circulation. 

This spice is also thought to prevent blood clots in arteries. And, due to its antioxidant properties, ginger is helpful in reducing the buildup of plaque due to high cholesterol.

You can use ginger in both sweet and savory dishes. Most commonly, it pairs wonderfully with apples and other baked goods, and it is a staple in Indian cuisine and many stir fries. 

Technically these two are not the same. 

While curcumin is the main curcuminoid found in turmeric, you can also buy and use curcumin and turmeric (separately) to season your food and improve your heart health, but here we’ll detail their benefits together. 

Turmeric has been used for years in traditional medicine primarily due to its known ability to open up your blood vessels, promoting healthy blood flow. 

Curcumin, in turmeric, gives this spice its bright yellow coloring. Together, they are known to lower “bad” cholesterol levels to improve the health of your heart. 

Curcumin, specifically, is known for its anti-inflammatory properties.  

And, in patients with clogged or blocked arteries, curcumin increased healthy blood flow. It has even been recognized as a potential therapy for heart failure. 

Adding black pepper to this spice is thought to increase its bioavailability, making it easier to be used by your body. 

Thought to be one of the best antioxidant spices, cloves have been found to be just as beneficial as curcumin at lowering cholesterol levels. 

The antioxidant properties of this spice are thought to prevent many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease. 

Cloves, in particular, are known to lower levels of oxidized LDL cholesterol in the blood. This is vital to heart health as oxidation of this type of cholesterol is one of the first steps in the process whereby plaque begins to build up within the walls of arteries, leading to both heart attack and stroke. 

Oxidation of LDL cholesterol is also thought to cause inflammation. And, high levels of oxidation have been identified as posing 4 times the risk for heart disease in men.

Consider adding these herbs and spices to your diet, adding both flavor to your food and benefits to the health of your heart! 

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