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Spicy Meals Help People Make Better Dietary Choices

Update Date: Jul 16, 2013 12:40 PM EDT

Sprinkling a little spice to meals could help people lose weight, according to new research.

Researchers presenting at the 2013 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting & Food Expo found that adding a small amount of herbs and spices to foods may help people cut down on dietary fat by making healthy foods like vegetables and reduced-calorie meals more appetizing.

The latest study involved 150 participants.  The experiment included foods like meatloaf, vegetables and creamy pasta.  Participants were asked to taste the meal with full fat (610 calories), reduced fat, and reduced fat with everyday spices such as onion, oregano, paprika and garlic (both 395 calories).  Participants then rated the meals using a nine-point Likert scale. The meals were randomized so nobody knew which of the three they were eating.

Researchers found that the full-fat meal and the reduced-fat meal with spices both scored around 7.0 on the Likert scale. The reduced-fat meal with no spices scored about a 6.25. 

The study also revealed that the educed-fat meatloaf with spices scored slightly higher than the full-fat version (6.75 vs. 6.50), while the reduced-fat only version was rated just above 6.0.

The spiced-up reduced-fat vegetables scored slightly above 7.0, while the full-fat version scored just under 7.0, and the reduced-fat only vegetables scored a little below 6.5.

However, the full-fat creamy pasta scored better than both of the reduced-fat versions, with the full-fat pasta scoring slightly above 7.25 vs. a little above 6.5 for the spicy reduced-fat version, and slightly below 6.0 for the reduced-fat with no spice. Researchers explain that reducing the fat in components like milk and cheese may contribute to an overall less satisfying feel and taste. However, they noted that adding spices compensated for some of the ratings deficit between the full-fat version and the non-spicy reduced-fat version.

"Substituting herbs and spices for fat may be a promising strategy for helping people meet the Dietary Guidelines, especially if it's simple stuff you can buy in the store that doesn't require any exotic training," Peters said in a news release.

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