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On May 20-21, 2014, The McCormick Science Institute held a summit that brought together experts from government, academia, and the food industry to initiate a national conversation on the role of spices and herbs in a healthy diet. Prior to this summit, little attention had been given to the connection between public health and flavor. But according to the discoveries of the McCormick Science Institute, spices and herbs could potentially play a more significant role in improving our health by helping to reduce calorie, fat, and sodium intake while making healthy eating more appealing.

“We now understand that spices and herbs have a meaningful role to play in bringing flavor to the forefront of today’s health conversations,” said Johanna Dwyer, DSc, RD, professor of medicine and community health at Tufts University School of Medicine.

Key Findings of The Summit: How Spices and Herbs Can Potentially Improve Public Health

  • Increase vegetable and other low-fat foods consumption: James O. Hill, PhD from the University of Colorado presented data showing that spicing low-fat meals (pasta, lean meats and vegetables) helped make them more desirable for the average consumer. Furthermore, some of these reduced fat dishes with added spices and herbs were rated just as high as the full-fat versions. Dr. James O. Hill concluded that adding spices and herbs to low-fat meals can make them more acceptable to people who struggle with long-term dietary changes to reduce fat.

  • Enhance energy metabolism and repletion: Margriet Westerterp-Plantenga, PhD from Maastricht University conducted a research study finding that culinary amounts of red pepper increased energy expenditure and repletion. She concluded that adding red pepper to dishes can help people who are┬átrying to manage their weight.

  • Improve insulin sensitivity: According to Richard Anderson, PhD from the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center cinnamon may help improve blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity.

  • Reduce cardiovascular risk factors: Sheila West, PhD from Penn State University found that a spice blend added to a high-fat meal decreased post-meal insulin and triglyceride levels compared to the same meal without added spices.

  • Enjoy lower-sodium eating plans: Spices and herbs can help the public consume less sodium without sacrificing taste. An intervention addressing behaviors conducted at Johns Hopkins found that the group of participants which added spices and herbs to food had a lower daily sodium intake when compared to the group which did not have behavioral intervention. The group that didn’t receive the intervention consumed an average of 966 mg/day of sodium more than the group that received the intervention about using spices and herbs.

Translating the Science into Action

Knowing is only half the battle. To actually make a difference, the participants of the Science Summit established task force groups to identify action steps to elevate the dialogue around spices and herbs.

  • Consumer Education: Develop and use actionable messages to help consumers understand the science that supports the role spices and herbs may play in promoting health. Areas to explore include guidance on cooking healthy foods with spices and herbs and using authorities like chefs, food scientists, registered dietitians and celebrities to help educate the public.

  • Public Policy: Reinforce the benefits of spices and herbs in initiatives focused on weight management, sodium and saturated fat reduction, and building healthy eating patterns. Consider including science-based messages about spices and herbs in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and other government nutrition education materials.

  • Product Development: Support the development of healthy foods with quality research studies, including: behavioral studies, and data on the functionality of added spices and herbs.

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