comscore Spices in food offer benefits, risks | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Spices in food offer benefits, risks

In her acclaimed 1995 series, “Cooking With Master Chefs,” Julia Child stressed the joys of herbs and spices. Clearly, you listened. Today Americans spend almost $1 billion a year on spices and $300 million on herbs!

That’s great! These flavorings can boost your love of veggies and leaner cuisines (Indian, Thai, Japanese, etc.), and there are many health benefits from spices. For example: According to Cleveland Clinic’s dietitian Anna Taylor, in addition to making a stir-fry sing, ginger may reduce inflammation associated with osteoarthritis, ease nausea and reduce muscle pain.

But hiding in your spice rack may be something you don’t want: lead. A new 10-year study found more than 50 percent of the 1,500 imported spice samples from 41 countries had detectable lead, and more than 30 percent had concentrations greater than 2 parts per million, the amount considered safe for food.

Spices from the countries of Georgia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Morocco generally had the highest concentrations. Especially risky: The Georgian spice kviteli kvavili (yellow flower), turmeric, hot pepper, chili powder and paprika.

Fortunately, you can protect yourself and still enjoy the flavorings. Avoid purchasing spices in unlabeled bags or from scoop-it-out containers. Select ones produced by reputable U.S.-based companies. Use fresh spices and herbs when you can — identified with place of origin. And consider organic to help you dodge other toxins.

Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email questions to

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