As a kid, I hated spicy foods. So much so, in fact, that I refused to eat Mexican food, Indian food, or any other ethnic cuisine that I thought might be too spicy. I knew what I liked (mostly pizza, chicken, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches), and I stuck to it.
And that’s a shame, because adding spices to your food is one of the best things you can do to get healthier and lose weight, while loving the food you eat.
When I did eventually wise up and start cooking spicy (well, mildly spicy) food at home, I lost 20 pounds in 3 months, and learned to love shrimp tacos and pumpkin chicken curry in the process. Here are the twelve spices I use that have the biggest weight loss and overall health benefits.
Special thanks to Nagina Abdullah, whose writing convinced me to add several of these to my diet.
Along with Mint, cinnamon is one of only two spices on this list that I actually did consume as a kid. It’s also one of the best spices you can consume for weight loss. Cinnamon helps to regulate your blood sugar levels, preventing them from spiking after you eat a meal. Consuming at least a gram of cinnamon a day has been shown to reduce fasting blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Cinnamon makes an excellent flavor additive for desserts, beverages, and fruits. It can be used in place of sugar when mixed with a beverage, like coffee, or sprinkled on a dish.
Ginger is one of those things I couldn’t stand as a kid, and almost can’t get enough of now. It improves digestion, helping you to get more nutrients out of the food you eat while preventing digestive ailments. It also provides a slight boost to your metabolic rate.
Ginger is commonly used in Asian dishes. It can also be used to add a tart flavor to a dessert or vegetable dish, or as a palate cleanser between dishes.
Turmeric can provide a mild earthy flavor that blends well with other spices, without overpowering the other flavors in the dish. It’s commonly used in curries, particularly Indian recipes.
Turmeric improves digestion while reducing bloating and gas symptoms. More importantly, it’s loaded with cancer-fighting anti-oxidants. It also appears to lower fat gain and cancer risk by impeding the formation of capillaries that feed fat and cancer cells.
Mint has been shown in multiple laboratory settings to reduce stress, raise alertness, and lower cortisol levels. This is hugely important for reasons that go beyond the obvious stress relief benefits- chronically elevated cortisol levels lead to excess belly fat storage and an increased risk of cancer. Lowering cortisol is one of the best things anyone can do for both fat loss and overall health.
Mint can be a great ingredient in salads or desserts, or can be used to flavor ice water. Most of the studies on it also suggest that the benefits of mint can be had by chewing sugar-free mint chewing gum; it appears that the effects may be largely due to the psychological impact of the flavor, rather than any special chemical in mint.
Another spice that aids in blood sugar control, cumin has a smoky flavor and is used in Mediterranean and South Asian cuisines. It has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and lower body fat levels in lab studies.
You can make a simple and healthy spice mix for meat and fish dishes by mixing cumin with salt, black pepper, and/or turmeric.
Saffron is a dark spice used in a variety of Mediterranean, Indian and middle eastern dishes, such as paella and biryani. It can be used to add a slightly sweet flavor, and is sometimes used in confectionaries and liqueurs for this purpose.
So what makes it healthy? It acts as an appetite suppressant, reducing total food consumption.
This aromatic spice can aid digestion or reduce sugar cravings, and also acts as a natural breath freshener. Use it in soups, bean and lentil dishes, or cooked vegetable dishes, or add it directly to a tea.
Used in just about everything, pepper gets its hot flavor from a chemical called capsicum. And the reason pepper makes you feel hot and sweaty is simple: it actually does make you hot. If you can take the heat, this makes pepper very useful for fat loss. The hotter the better- more heat means your body is burning more energy. To maximize the effect, try consuming some cayenne pepper and then taking a cold shower immediately after.
On a separate note, when black pepper is consumed in conjunction with turmeric, it increases the absorption of the turmeric by as much as 2000%. Try combining the two when you want to make a spicy dish.
Garlic has a surprising variety of health benefits. It aids in fat loss by raising body temperature and reducing fat storage. At the same time, it mitigates some of the side effects of obesity, like heart disease and elevated cholesterol. Finally, it has been demonstrated to have both anticancer and antibacterial properties, making it an excellent addition for long-term health, and worth adding to your diet when you get sick.
Garlic makes a great addition to breads and pastas, as well as some soups and roasts.
Mustard seeds contain omega-3s, as well as selenium, which helps your body eliminate heavy metals like Mercury. But what few people realize is that mustard (the condiment, not the seeds) also contains turmeric and capsicum.
As such, a high-quality mustard can offer the benefits of all these ingredients: fat loss, better digestion, and cancer-fighting antioxidants. The high-quality part of that statement is crucial, though. Many commercial mustards contain little or no capsicum or turmeric, or have added sugar. Check ingredients and look for a mustard that has a stronger flavor and no added sugars.
Fenugreek is a traditional ingredient in middle eastern, east Africa, and some Indian cuisines. While it is traditionally believed to aid digestion, evidence suggests that it is mainly useful for lowering blood sugar levels and improving insulin sensitivity.
Fenugreek can be used in cooking to flavor homemade breads, breaded meats or cured meats. It is also sold in supplement form.
Not a lot of people know this, but dandelions are edible. Well, the greens are- not the flowers. In fact, they’re rich in a variety of nutrients including calcium, potassium, iron, manganese, and vitamins A, C and K. It also aids digestion, and has a diuretic effect which can help your body clear out toxins.
Dandelion greens can be blanched, sautéed, or thrown into a salad. Dandelion can also be used to make a caffeine-free coffee substitute.
Cooking is one of the healthiest things you can do
When you get in the habit of cooking most of your meals at home, great things happen. You eat healthier, fresher food. You’re more aware of exactly what you’re eating. You learn to better appreciate and enjoy your meals. You feel better about yourself. You save my by not eating out as much. And when you do go out to eat, your standards go up.
If you love cooking, great- do it twice a day if you want to. But if not, you should make a habit of cooking food in bulk twice a week. To learn how to build better habits, enter your email address in the form below to download my Habit Change Cheat Sheet.