Here’s a good reason to treat yourself to Indian food or enhance other food with Indian spices: The cinnamon and turmeric may help protect against heart disease, inflammatory gastrointestinal disorders, cancer and weight gain.

Here’s a good reason to treat yourself to Indian food or enhance other food with Indian spices: The cinnamon and turmeric may help protect against heart disease, inflammatory gastrointestinal disorders, cancer and weight gain.

“The benefits of these ingredients look very promising,” said Lisa Raymond, a registered dietitian and clinical nutritional manager at Massachusetts' South Shore Hospital. “However, they’re inconclusive because most of the studies have been with animals in the lab, not with humans.”

As researchers investigate spices such as cinnamon and turmeric, they are focusing on their antioxidant, antiinflammatory and anti-angiogenesis properties.

“They have been well investigated, and animal trials have shown them to be effective, so there are a lot of claims for them,” said Dr. Mohsen Meydani, laboratory director at the Human Nutrition Research Center at Tufts University. “And historically, people in India, Pakistan and the Middle East have used them for a variety of chronic diseases.”

Cancer researchers, in particular, have been interested in curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, because it has anti-angiogenesis properties, meaning it blocks the formation of new blood vessels required for tumor growth, Meydani said.

In his own obesity research, he found that mice fed a high-fat diet supplemented with a small amount of curcumin (the human equivalent of several daily spoonfuls) ate the same amount but gained less weight than mice on a high-fat diet without the compound.

“The compound somehow inhibits fat cell growth and burns fat much more than usual,” said Meydani, who has applied for a grant to do a similar study with humans. “It works against the accumulation of fat.”

Additionally, the antioxidants are believed to prevent disease because they keep plaque from forming in the arteries, restrict inflammation and reduce cell damage from free radicals.

Even though human studies are needed, there’s still good health reasons to consume these spices. Turmeric is a staple in curries and can add flavor to yogurt, while cinnamon goes well with apples, squash, toast, even coffee.

“They add great flavor without sugar and salt and fat,” Raymond said. “It’s so much better for your health to use herbs and spices.”

The Patriot Ledger