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In recent news, there’s been a lot of talk about using spices to rev up your metabolism. So will amping up the spice content of your food actually make you lose weight? In short, yes, it has been proven that spices like the capsaicin found in chili peppers and red pepper can actually boost metabolism slightly. However, the key word is slightly – I’ve seen studies that show the metabolism boosting effects to be anywhere between 1%-8% of daily rate, others that cite 5-10% of rate for that specific meal, and more that cite between 20 and 200 additional calories per day (when consuming a LOT of capsaicin). Some studies also show reduced desire to eat fatty, salty, and sweet foods after participants ate a spicy meal. Those low rates, combined with the fact that the results wear off once you get “used” to spices, mean that eating spices is not a surefire way to lose weight, and you shouldn’t use spices as an excuse to eat loads of otherwise-unhealthy foods. It’s nearly impossible to be meticulous enough to know exactly how many extra calories you can consume just because you ate spices, so I recommend not relying on that method.
Don’t throw them away yet, though! As I alluded to in the garden post, I believe that adding spices and herbs to your food is a fantastic idea for several reasons, and the additional calorie-burning boost you experience is just one of them. Spices and herbs are also a great way to flavor your food without additional calories, and can help you avoid heavy sauces without sacrificing flavor. They can help you increase the variety of the foods you cook, and help keep even the healthiest of foods interesting. So I say, layer them on! Try as many spices as you can, and experiment with combining them or using them on different foods.
Aside from the capsaicin found in pepper, other spices and herbs that have noted health benefits include turmeric (for reducing inflammation), ginger (to soothe upset stomachs and curb appetite), mint (which can curb appetite), and garlic (which improves metabolism of carbohydrates and fats, and may help prevent and fight cancer). But those are just the tip of the iceberg!
I haven’t yet mentioned my favorite spice … Cinnamon! I rarely go a day without consuming cinnamon at least once, and have even been known to travel with a shaker of cinnamon in my carry-on bag. Not only does it taste delicious, but many studies have shown that consuming cinnamon helps stabilize blood sugar, reduces inflammation, and potentially has several other health benefits. I add cinnamon to my go-to breakfast, sliced fruit like apples and pears (you have no idea how delicious this is until you try it!), coffee and tea, cereal, oatmeal, smoothies, ice cream, and much more. In fact, when Kevin and I moved into our new place in September and ended up going through 5 regular-sized cinnamon shakers within the first couple of months, we realized we needed to start buying in bulk!
In case you’re curious, I learned the difference between spices and herbs at a presentation yesterday. Herbs (like basil, oregano, parsley, or sage) get their flavor from the leaves of the plant, while spices (like cloves, ginger, nutmeg, or cumin) get their flavor from stems, roots, seeds, or other portions of the plant. Some plants even yield spices and herbs – did you know cilantro (the leaves, an herb) and coriander (the seeds, a spice) come from the same plant? Consider my mind blown!
So tell me in the comments… what are your favorite herbs and spices, and how do you use them?