Spices, a valuable addition to a heart-healthy diet

New Delhi | Updated: Dec 7 2013, 22:44pm hrs
SpicesUsed in traditional medicine by herbalists, spices have been a part of healing remedies for centuries.(Photo:Thinkstock)
It is not surprising that spices were some of the most valuable items of trade in the medieval era. Used in traditional medicine by herbalists, they have been a part of healing remedies for centuries. Modern medicine too has begun studying the powers of common herbs and spices. Here are a few of these and their benefits.

Coriander Seeds

Coriander seeds are rich in two main compounds linaloon and decanoic acid. These are known for their cholesterol- and blood sugar-lowering effects. Several animal studies have demonstrated a reduction in total cholesterol, bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase in good cholesterol (HDL). A teaspoon or two of coriander seeds consumed after soaking overnight seems to be beneficial for those suffering from in heart disease and diabetes.


Turmeric or haldi is well-known as a spice and medicine in Siddha and Ayurveda. The benefits for heart health arise from curcumin, an active principle which is anti-oxidant, anti-clotting, anti-inflammatory and anti-proliferative. Several scientific studies have documented the effect of curcumin in decreasing blood cholesterol levels. Anti-oxidant properties of curcumin may also help prevent cardiovascular complications among diabetics.

Black pepper

Piperine, a major active component in both black and white (de-husked) pepper has numerous reported physiological and drug-like actions. Several scientific studies provide evidence that black pepper has cholesterol-lowering properties and may help in recovery of cardiac function after heart attacks. A word of caution -- piperine can strengthen or modify the effects of numerous other medicines, particularly blood thinning agents. Therefore, it is important to seek advice from a qualified professional before using it in therapeutic doses.


Circulatory stimulant effects of cinnamon have been reported in several books on medicinal plants and in Ayurveda. It helps in reduction of total and bad cholesterol and increase in good cholesterol. It also helps improve insulin resistance, thereby making it useful in diabetes management.

Fenugreek seeds

Fenugreek seeds (methi) have been used extensively to prepare extracts and powders for medicinal uses. Fenugreek seed powder has been known to lower levels of serum lipids such as total cholesterol and triglycerides. Phytochemical (saponins) in fenugreek reportedly aid in glucose, cholesterol metabolism and cancer protection. They can be had mixed into chapatis, rice, dal, vegetable, curd, pickle, chutneys, or as sprouts in salad.

Black cumin seeds

Black cumin seeds, also known as kalonji or black caraway, should not be confused with the herb cumin. A recent study revealed that black cumin seeds have a diversified effect on lipid profile. It was found to have a significant impact in lowering total and bad cholesterol.


Ginger is well-known for its use in ailments like sore throats, cramps, pains, arthritis, indigestion, vomiting, high blood pressure, etc. Gingerol is believed to relax blood vessels, stimulate blood flow and relieve pain. Ginger is also a powerful anti-inflammatory agent which makes it useful in heart disease, diabetes and cancer. It also has exhibited cholesterol-lowering and anti-clotting activities.


Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, and Charak, the father of Ayurveda, claimed that garlic acts as a heart tonic by maintaining the fluidity of blood and strengthening the heart. Over centuries, Garlic has acquired a unique position in therapeutic medicine and is associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Over the last 20 years, modern scientific research has confirmed these findings. Allcin, a sulfur-containing compound is one of the key components of garlic. It is known for its cholesterol-lowering, anti-clotting and blood-pressure lowering properties.

Ishi Khosla is a former senior nutritionist at Escorts. She heads the Centre of Dietary Counselling and also runs a health food store. She feels that for complete well-being, one should integrate physical, mental and spiritual health. According to her: "To be healthy should be the ultimate goal for all."