Spices and herbs can add a kick to your weight loss efforts – and not just by heating up the flavors in your food. While there’s a lot of value in making your food taste better when you’re trying to lose weight, there are a number of spices and herbs that may actually help you lose weight by burning fat faster or combating insulin resistance and promoting healthy glucose metabolism. Herbs and species – which are often the seeds of herbs – are loaded with all sorts of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and other healthy stuff – and more and more in recent years, scientists are finding that many of those active components help trigger metabolism and improve digestion. So enjoy that curry and sprinkle cinnamon on your oatmeal with a heavy hand. You’re doing more than just improving the taste of your food.
Not sure which spices and herbs you could or should be using to help your weight loss? Here’s a list of 10 spices that may boost your metabolism, improve your digestion, fight insulin resistance and generally turn your body into a lean, mean, fat-fighting machine.
Dried seeds, roots and leaves from herbaceous plants can add a delicious kick to your meals, with the additional kicker of a healthy boost. Check out the healthy weight loss benefits of spicing your foods with these powerhouses of antioxidant goodness.
Black pepper is as common on American tables as the shaker of salt, but it’s far better for your body. Scientists have found that black pepper helps your body absorb nutrients from other foods, which is important for healthy digestion and metabolism. Black pepper may also block the formation of new fat cells, and boosts metabolism, especially in combination with other spices, like capsaicin, derived from peppers.
How to Use It: Pepper adds a kick to eggs in just about any form, and boosts the nutty flavor of brown rice and other whole grains. It’s also a primary ingredient in this healthy Black Pepper Chicken recipe.
Cayenne and Other Peppers
Cayenne peppers, red bell peppers and other peppers all seem to boost your metabolism by up to 5 percent while increasing your body’s fat burning rate by as much as 16 percent. The active ingredient responsible for turning your body into a fat-burning furnace is capsaicin. Capsaicin may also help cut your calorie intake, shrink fat tissue and reduce the levels of fat – including cholesterol – in your blood. You’ll get this benefit from any kind of pepper, but the hotter the pepper, the stronger the effect.
How to Use It: Make up a batch of delicious Salsa using fresh tomatoes, onions and jalapeno peppers and enjoy it as a side dish, or toss a handful of red pepper flakes into your favorite dressings or soups to kick up the heat.
Cardamom is the ground seed pods of a plant that originated in India but is now widely grown as a cash crop in Central and South America. The piquant spice lends its exotic flavor to Indian and Scandinavian desserts, and is especially tasty in fruit and yogurt-based dishes. It’s also used in savory dishes, including curries. Scientists have found that cardamom boosts your metabolism, helping your body to digest food and burn fat faster.
How to Use It: Skip that iced Chai Latte at your favorite coffee shop and make your own chai at home. Just steep 8 cardamom pods, a stick of cinnamon and 8 cloves in 2 1/2 cups of simmering water for about 6 minutes. Add 3/4 cup of low-fat milk and 3 teaspoons of loose tea – or 3 tea bags of your choice of unflavored tea. Drink it hot or serve it over ice to stimulate your digestion and boost your metabolism.
You knew cinnamon was tasty, but did you know that it can help you lose weight? In fact, based on various studies done over the past several years, cinnamon can positively affect your cholesterol levels, help regulate your blood pressure and aid your body in maintaining and regulating blood sugar levels. It appears to improve insulin sensitivity and increase the ability of your cells to use glucose. As little as a half teaspoon of cinnamon a day can make a major difference in your body’s ability to use food properly and bring you closer to your weight loss goals.
How to Use It: Cinnamon goes well with so many different flavors. Sprinkle it into hot breakfast cereals or on toast, or heat up apple juice with a couple of cinnamon sticks. Try adding cinnamon and a handful of sultana raisins to brown rice for a tasty side dish.
Spicy, smoky and pungent, cumin is widely used in Indian, Spanish, Mexican and Mediterranean cooking. Most people recognize it as the greenish-brown powder that gives tacos their characteristic “Mexican” flavor. The ground seed has been used for medicinal purposes since before the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and is a staple of Ayurvedic medicine. Scientists have found that cumin boosts metabolism and improves insulin sensitivity, which is widely becoming accepted as a major factor in obesity. In at least one study, cumin was shown to reduce total cholesterol, triglycerides and pancreatic inflammation in diabetic rats, which suggests that it may play a role in helping to regulate and burn fat.
How to Use It: Cumin is ubiquitous in Mexican and Spanish cooking. Use it to season beef, chicken or pork, or stir it into hummus with chili powder and cayenne pepper for a deliciously different dip. Stir a teaspoon of cumin into plain yogurt along with a pinch of salt, and toss with sliced cucumbers and onions for a refreshing salad.
Ginger is a long-time home remedy for upset tummies and digestive issues, but doctors now know that it can help with weight loss as well. Over the past several years, researchers have discovered that ginger helps improve your cholesterol profile, boosts your metabolism and encourages your body to burn calories rather than store them. Some studies have suggested that ginger also increases insulin sensitivity, which helps your body regulate blood sugar levels that may be related to obesity.
How to Use It: Don’t blunt the health effects of ginger by adding it to sugary treats. Instead, use fresh ginger to spice vegetable stir-fries, or add it to citrus fruits and melon and whirl in the blender for a refreshing smoothie.
Ginseng is among the best known medicinal herbs and is widely used in both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic medicine. Scientists have found that ginseng helps boost metabolism and reduce blood sugar levels, perhaps by increasing insulin sensitivity or decreasing insulin resistance. In addition to those direct effects, ginseng is also a mood- and energy-booster that promotes a general feeling of health and well-being. The tangy-pungent flavor is the perfect complement to teas, citrus and berries, among others.
How to Use It: Drink a cup of ginseng tea after dinner to help stimulate digestion or mix up a smoothie with yogurt, orange juice and ginseng powder. Avoid the trap of drinking sweetened, canned green tea with ginseng and honey – make your own. It only takes a few minutes and it’s so much healthier.
The pungent flavor of mustard seed is a favorite in savory dishes and pickles, but it adds more than flavor to your dish. According to research, eating mustard seeds daily can boost the metabolic rate by up to 25% — or an average of an additional 45 calories per hour.
How to Use It: Make your own mustard using ground mustard, vinegar and other spices to taste. Use it in barbecue rubs or mix it into salad dressings for a healthy flavor boost over bought mustard, which is often packed with corn syrup, sugar and preservatives.
The bright red powdered spice is actually a milder form of cayenne, derived from a variety of red peppers. Capsaicin gives paprika the same health punch as cayenne, but with less pungency and more sweetness. Like cayenne, paprika appears to increase the body’s fat burning ability and reduces blood cholesterol levels.
How to Use It: Sprinkle paprika on egg dishes, especially egg salad and deviled eggs. Add it to salad dressings and stews, and use it to spice lamb, chicken and fish dishes. For a surprising taste treat, try adding a teaspoon of paprika to baked apples or applesauce.
Turmeric is the spice that gives curry and ballpark mustard their bright yellow color. The pungent spice sometimes known as Indian saffron is a potent source of manganese, iron, potassium and vitamin B1. Scientists have noted that curcumin, turmeric’s most active constituent, has an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effect that may be helpful in dealing with many different conditions, including arthritis, colitis and cancer. In one study, volunteers who took 500 mg of curcumin daily lowered their overall cholesterol level by 11% while raising their HDL (gold cholesterol) by 29%.
How to Use It: Enjoy turmeric in a good curry, but don’t stop there. Toss cauliflower with turmeric, sauté in olive oil and enjoy. Sprinkle turmeric on brown rice and add raisins and diced onions for a tasty side dish. Stir into yogurt with salt, pepper and onion powder and use as a dip for raw vegetables. Enjoy with any dish that features cauliflower, lentils, fresh peas or diced potatoes.