Health

Adding this herb to pizza sauce may help fight virus

Feb. 13, 2014 at 11:50 AM ET

In this product image provided by Domino's, the company's new reformulated pizza is shown. As industry observers _ and even late night TV hosts _ scra...
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Instead of extra cheese on your pizza, maybe you should ask for extra oregano.

If you feel guilty after eating a slice of pizza, a new study may help you feel better. 

An ingredient in oregano has been found to boost immunity, at least in laboratory cells. That’s no excuse to scarf a whole pie, but it adds to a growing body of scientific evidence linking many herbs and spices to disease-fighting health benefits.

When oregano’s active ingredient carvacrol was added directly to a mouse norovirus, the viral infection was inactivated. Norovirus, recently blamed for mass illness on a cruise ship, is a common cause of stomach illness and is notoriously difficult to avoid in the winter. 

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Arizona and published this week in the Journal of Applied Microbiology.

While this result can’t be readily translated to how much oregano to add to your pizza sauce to boost your immune response, it’s consistent with promising studies on other herbs and spices done in humans.

After all, seasonings come from plants: herbs are typically leaves and stems, while spices usually seeds, berries or roots.

Other herbs and spices have been studied with consistent results, although it’s still unknown exactly how much we’d need to fight any kind of disease. A range of herbs and spices have been studied in addition to oregano, including basil, thyme, rosemary and garlic.

Other seasonings worth adding to your regular diet: 

  • Cinnamon is thought to reduce inflammation and might contribute to small reductions in blood sugar. The benefits come from doses that could be consumed regularly every day. Some studies show that around 1.5 teaspoons of cinnamon can have some beneficial effects. But avoid the “cinnamon challenge” which is not the normal use of any spice!
  • Turmeric is another spice associated with reducing cellular inflammation, although specific dosing is less clear, and more data are needed to evaluate specific health benefits. 
  • Chili peppers contain the active ingredient, dihydrocapsiate, shown to boost the fat-burning ability of the body, when consumed by people three times a day. This is hard to translate into chili-pepper amounts, since the active ingredient was consumed in capsule form.

Fresh or dried herbs? Remember that you need roughly twice the amount of a fresh herb to equal the seasoning power (potential health benefits) of the dried variety.

And using herbs and spices not only flavors your foods, but may also help to cut back on your use of added salt — another health plus.

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