Spicy Foods Are Good for Your Heart

Certain spices tame the effects of high-fat foods

You might want to keep a bottle of cayenne pepper in your glove compartment for the next time you hit up the McDonald’s drive-thru. Antioxidant-rich spices, also including cinnamon , rosemary, ginger and turmeric, can help reduce the negative effects of a high-fat meal on your body, according to a new study in the Journal of Nutrition.

Researchers found that adding spices to fatty foods helped keep triglyceride levels in check. Triglycerides are a type of fat in your bloodstream. Like high cholesterol, too many triglycerides can lead to hardening of the arteries, and are linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

When you eat, your body converts all unused calories into triglycerides and stores them as fat. In addition, eating just one fatty meal can send triglyceride levels soaring. This can trigger inflammation and an immune system reaction -- the body thinks it’s under attack and sends white blood cells to repair damage in the artery walls. Over time, this process can harden your arteries, setting the stage for a heart attack or stroke. The more fatty foods you eat, the more traumas you subject your blood vessels to. This study found that choosing spicy and herb-flavored foods over bland ones could help reduce that risk. It probably goes without saying that skipping fast food altogether is the even better option.

The Penn State researchers found that adding two tablespoons of antioxidant-rich spices like ginger, oregano and rosemary to fattening dishes tamped down their post-meal triglyceride response by 30 percent. The herb blend also boosted levels of antioxidants in volunteers’ bloodstreams and improved their insulin response by 20 percent.

Spices aren’t the only things that meddle with triglycerides. Past research has shown that eating fast food meals when stressed out can keep the fat lingering in the bloodstream for longer. This increases the risk that they will settle inside the artery walls. Another study found that swigging coffee (or any other caffeinated beverage) with your sausage, egg and cheese Crossian’wich made blood sugar levels skyrocket.

The takeaway: If you’re going to indulge in a high-fat meal, skip the soda and coffee and pile on the herbs. Oh, and you should probably hit the meditation studio before the drive-thru, too. You’re still not doing your arteries any favors, but at least you’re reducing the pummeling that they’re about to take. Nothing like taking a quick timeout so we can enjoy the taste of a Big Mac. I’ll take mine with extra oregano, please.

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