Sprinkling herbs and spices on meals could stave off a heart attack or stroke, according to new research.
Seasoning food generously not only makes food tastier – but also boosts cardiovascular health.
Just over a teaspoon a day (6.5g) lowers blood pressure – within a month, say nutritionists.
Basil, thyme, garlic, cayenne, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon and coriander are among a host of flavourings that protect against clogged arteries.
Lead author Professor Penny Kris-Etherton, of Penn State University in the US, said: “Adding herbs and spices to your food is a great way to add flavour without adding extra salt, sugar or saturated fat.
“And, if you go a step further and add these seasonings to foods that are really good for you, like fruits and vegetables, you can potentially get even more health benefits by consuming that extra produce.”
More than a quarter of adults in the UK, around 14.4 million, have high blood pressure – over 5 million of whom are undiagnosed.
Known medically as hypertension, causes vessels to thicken. This can cut off blood supply to the heart or brain.
The condition has been dubbed the ‘silent killer’ as there are no symptoms. Eating too much salt is a major cause.
Co principal investigator Dr Kristina Petersen, now atTexas Tech University, said: “As nutritionists, we are interested in new ways we can use diet to benefit health, and cardiovascular health in particular.
“We were curious about how herbs and spices could affect heart health, since they are versatile and can be added to many different types of food.”
In the study, 71 participants with risk factors for heart disease were put on three diets – low, moderate or high in herbs and spices – in random order.
They were given a two-week break between the interventions. Blood samples were taken before and after each one – as well as at the outset.
All foods were typical of what an average American consumes – but included 0.5, 3.2 or 6.5 grams of herbs and spices a day.
They included a blend of 24 different varieties ranging from basil and thyme to cinnamon and turmeric.
They were designed to simulate the way people use seasonings while cooking.
The volunteers’ systolic blood pressure – the force your heart exerts each time it beats – was lower after the high rathern than medium dose.
Diastolic blood pressure – the power in between beats – also dropped compared to the low dose.
The diets were not designed to be specifically heart healthy – and only differed by the amount of herbs and spices.
Prof Kris-Etherton said this makes the findings in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition “especially exciting.”
She explained: “I think it is really significant participants consumed an average American diet throughout the study and we still found these results.
“We didn’t decrease salt, we didn’t increase fruits and vegetables, we just added herbs and spices.
“It begs the next question that if we did alter the diet in these ways, how much better would the results be?”
Studies that incorporate herbs and spices into a dietary pattern lower in salt, added sugars and fats could help guide future recommendations, added the researchers.
Heart and circulatory diseases cause a quarter of deaths in the UK – more than 160,000 a year. They claim the lives of over 40,000 under 75s annually.