Spices add so much flavor and aroma that enhance the enjoyment of food—think of when you’ve added cayenne pepper to a spicy meat marinade or enjoyed the bold notes of a curry dish. They’re not just there for taste, however; they can add medicinal benefits to your meals too.
For centuries, cultures have used spices to address indigestion, nausea, inflammation, and other problems. Consider turmeric: For around 4,000 years, people used this spice for wounds, bites, burns, acne, eye infections, and various skin diseases.1
Modern science has finally caught up. During the last few decades, over 3,000 publications have praised the healing properties of turmeric.2
The Best Spices for Your Metabolism
Scientists have also discovered ways to optimize metabolism and help people lose weight—and the answer could be right in your spice cabinet. While there are countless others, I’ve targeted four of my favorite science-proven spices that support your weight-loss efforts.
These spices provide compounds that balance blood sugar, lower inflammation, boost metabolism, and otherwise help you hit your target weight. Along with their benefits, you’ll find delicious recipes (including a favorite adult beverage!) that let you get more of these fabulous spices.
Cinnamon for Blood-Sugar Balance
Blood-sugar balance is the most important way to stay healthy and keep your weight under control. When you eat by the plate, you’re incorporating the magic protein-fat-fiber trifecta that steadies blood sugar and keeps you full for hours.
Cinnamon can complement those efforts. This warm spice helps keep blood-sugar levels stable. Cinnamon can also support the effects of your hormone insulin to deliver glucose to your cells, which use it for energy.
Cinnamaldehyde is the primary compound in cinnamon that helps balance blood-sugar levels.3 However, scientists have also found that phytochemicals in cinnamon called chalcone polymers can increase glucose metabolism in the cells twentyfold or more.4
In one study, researchers divided people into three groups. For 40 days, they incorporated 1, 3, or 6 grams of cinnamon into their meal plan to determine how this spice impacted post-meal blood-sugar levels.
Those who got 3 or 6 grams of cinnamon daily saw the biggest benefits for post-meal blood sugar:
- Those using 3 grams daily lowered their blood-sugar levels 6.47% on day 20 and 10.7% on day 40.
- Those using 6 grams daily lowered their blood-sugar levels 3.55% on day 20 and 12.71% on day 40.5
Persistence paid off here (notice how the benefits increased with time), which is why I want you to make adding cinnamon a daily practice. It’s so easy to do. Among its versatility, you can add cinnamon to nearly any food or beverage. Here are some ways to do that:
- Cinnamon Almond Overnight Oats
- Fresh Fruit with Cinnamon Almond Butter
- Cinnamon Roasted Pecans
- Chai Protein Latte
- Baked Apples with Cinnamon Oatmeal Crumble
- Snickerdoodle Shake
Turmeric to Lower Inflammation
When your body is chronically inflamed, fat loss comes to a grinding halt. Indeed, studies show that an inflammatory diet leads to a higher annual weight gain and a higher risk of developing overweight or obesity.6
When it comes to spices that lower inflammation, turmeric is tops. A member of the ginger family, turmeric gives curries and other foods their bold hue.
Compounds called curcuminoids give turmeric its bright yellow color as well as its health benefits. The most-studied of these curcuminoids, called curcumin, provides turmeric its ability to lower inflammation, among other benefits.7
Research shows that turmeric can help manage inflammatory conditions and exercise-induced inflammation and muscle soreness.8 Other studies show that curcumin can support your gut microbiome, boosting thermogenesis (or the number of calories you burn for energy).9
While curcumin is available as a supplement, it’s easy to just sprinkle turmeric on vegetables, meat, and in your soups and smoothies. Need some help getting started?
Cayenne Pepper for a Metabolic Boost
Ready to turn up the heat on fat loss? Incorporate more cayenne. A compound in cayenne called capsaicin gives peppers their heat, and also their health benefits. (Worth noting: Black pepper, thought not in the same family, contains another compound, called piperine, which may also help with weight loss.10)
The capsaicin in cayenne peppers boosts thermogenesis, so you burn more calories. (Other peppers like jalapeño, serrano, and Thai chili peppers also contain capsaicin.) In one study, 75 participants were randomly assigned to receive either placebo, 2 mg capsaicin, or 4 mg capsaicin. Twelve weeks later, those who took the 4 mg capsaicin had lower body fat and fat mass compared with the other two groups.11
Sure, you can take capsaicin supplements, but why not incorporate more cayenne into your food and beverages? These three recipes show you how versatile this spice can be:
Ginger as the ‘Universal Remedy'
You’ve likely sipped ginger ale or ginger tea to alleviate nausea or stomach upset. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg with this spice.
Ayurvedic medicine calls ginger the “universal remedy.”12 Several compounds, including gingerols, shogaols, and paradols, provide those anti-inflammatory properties.
But ginger’s benefits go beyond inflammation. This spice also provides antioxidant protection to help your body manage damaging free radicals. When those free radicals get out of control, a condition called oxidative stress can occur that can increases inflammation and takes a toll on your metabolism and weight loss.13
Ginger also helps support digestion and suppresses your appetite, working in your body composition's favor. One review of 14 studies found that ginger could help improve several weight-loss measures, including body weight, waist-to-hip ratio, and blood-sugar levels.14
Ginger has a sharp, bold flavor that gives your food and beverages an invigorating punch. These four recipes let you get more ginger goodness:
- Spicy Gingersnap Shake
- Stir-Fried Kale with Ginger
- Green Salad with Sesame-Ginger Vinaigrette
- Ginger Mojito
Using Spices in Your Body-Composition Plan
Spices give your food fantastic flavor, but their benefits can also improve your metabolism, weight, and fat loss. I encourage you to experiment liberally with other spices that provide similar benefits as well, including fennel, fenugreek, and cardamom.
Ready to take your metabolic health to the next level? The Metabolism Rescue Program is your lifeline for repairing metabolic damage from chronic dieting, helping you lose fat and keep it off in a sustainable way. I’ve included a comprehensive guide, in-depth masterclass, and three metabolism-boosting supplements—my All-In-One Shakes, Metabolic Reset™, and Collagen Peptides Powder.*
- Hatcher H, Planalp R, Cho J, Torti FM, Torti SV. Curcumin: from ancient medicine to current clinical trials. Cell Mol Life Sci. 2008 Jun;65(11):1631-52. doi: 10.1007/s00018-008-7452-4. PMID: 18324353; PMCID: PMC4686230.
- Prasad S, Aggarwal BB. Turmeric, the Golden Spice: From Traditional Medicine to Modern Medicine. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd ed. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011. Chapter 13. PMID: 22593922.
- Morning Sign Out at UCI: Cinnamon: A Natural Remedy for High Blood Sugar
- Bowden, Jonny. The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth: The Surprising, Unbiased Truth about What You Should Eat and Why (p. 278). Creative Publishing International. Kindle Edition.
- Kizilaslan N, Erdem NZ. The Effect of Different Amounts of Cinnamon Consumption on Blood Glucose in Healthy Adult Individuals. Int J Food Sci. 2019 Mar 4;2019:4138534. doi: 10.1155/2019/4138534. PMID: 30949494; PMCID: PMC6425402.
- Ramallal R, Toledo E, Martínez JA, Shivappa N, Hébert JR, Martínez-González MA, Ruiz-Canela M. Inflammatory potential of diet, weight gain, and incidence of overweight/obesity: The SUN cohort. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2017 Jun;25(6):997-1005. doi: 10.1002/oby.21833. PMID: 28544794.
- Bowden, Jonny. The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth: The Surprising, Unbiased Truth about What You Should Eat and Why (p. 292). Creative Publishing International. Kindle Edition.
- Hewlings SJ, Kalman DS. Curcumin: A Review of Its Effects on Human Health. Foods. 2017 Oct 22;6(10):92. doi: 10.3390/foods6100092. PMID: 29065496; PMCID: PMC5664031.
- Han Z, Yao L, Zhong Y, Xiao Y, Gao J, Zheng Z, Fan S, Zhang Z, Gong S, Chang S, Cui X, Cai J . Gut microbiota mediates the effects of curcumin on enhancing Ucp1-dependent thermogenesis and improving high-fat diet-induced obesity. Food Funct. 2021 Jul 21;12(14):6558-6575. doi: 10.1039/d1fo00671a. Epub 2021 Jun 7. PMID: 34096956.
- Shah SS, Shah GB, Singh SD, Gohil PV, Chauhan K, Shah KA, Chorawala M. Effect of piperine in the regulation of obesity-induced dyslipidemia in high-fat diet rats. Indian J Pharmacol. 2011 May;43(3):296-9. doi: 10.4103/0253-7613.81516. PMID: 21713094; PMCID: PMC3113382.
- Rogers J, Urbina SL, Taylor LW, Wilborn CD, Purpura M, Jäger R, Juturu V. Capsaicinoids supplementation decreases percent body fat and fat mass: adjustment using covariates in a post hoc analysis. BMC Obes. 2018 Aug 13;5:22. doi: 10.1186/s40608-018-0197-1. PMID: 30123516; PMCID: PMC6088424.
- Bowden, Jonny. The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth: The Surprising, Unbiased Truth about What You Should Eat and Why (p. 284). Creative Publishing International. Kindle Edition.
- Healthline: Can Eating or Drinking Ginger Help Me Lose Weight?
- Maharlouei N, Tabrizi R, Lankarani KB, Rezaianzadeh A, Akbari M, Kolahdooz F, Rahimi M, Keneshlou F, Asemi Z. The effects of ginger intake on weight loss and metabolic profiles among overweight and obese subjects: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2019;59(11):1753-1766. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2018.1427044. Epub 2018 Feb 2. PMID: 29393665.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. Products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The views in this blog by JJ Virgin should never be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Please work with a healthcare practitioner concerning any medical problem or concern.