A longer version of this article originally appeared on Livestrong.com.
Ever experienced diet boredom? Well, herbs and spices are the easiest and healthiest ways to make your skinless, boneless chicken breast that much more exciting. “What’s more, many herbs and spices provide health benefits like weight loss, fighting inflammation, lowering blood sugar and cholesterol and even fighting dementia,” says Karen Ansel, M.S., RDN. “Using them in place of salt can also boost your heart health and lower your risk of stroke.” There is no magic-bullet herb or spice to help you drop 10 pounds (sigh), but some offer unique slim-down benefits, like slightly boosting your metabolism, helping ward off hunger or balancing your blood sugar levels.
Fenugreek is a spice widely used in Indian cuisine as well as in North African and Middle Eastern dishes. “If you crave fatty foods, curry powder may help quash your craving. Curry contains fenugreek, a seed that helps suppress fat cravings. It may also help control blood sugar too,” says Karen Ansel, M.S., RDN. Fenugreek may stimulate insulin and slow the absorption of sugars in the stomach, which can lower blood sugar in people with diabetes. As a supplement, fenugreek seeds are used as a treatment for high cholesterol and diabetes. Add a pinch to plain Greek yogurt or use it as a savory dip for freshly sliced cucumbers and red bell peppers.
Recent research reveals that cumin may be a natural weight-loss aid, helping to decrease body fat. “One study even found that it was as effective as the weight-loss drug Orlistat. If that weren’t reason enough to add it to your spice rack, it has also been shown to lower cholesterol and triglycerides,” says Karen Ansel, M.S., RDN. Another study found that overweight or obese women who consumed a little less than one teaspoon of cumin powder a day (or three grams) lost three pounds more than the non-cumin group over a three-month period. In addition, over the same three-month period, the cumin-eating group decreased their body fat percentage by about 14.6 percent — almost three times that of the non-cumin group (4.9 percent). Stir a heaping teaspoon into hummus — its extra kick could keep you filling full longer.
Approved in Germany for digestive ailments, rosemary has been used for years as a spice for its medicinal benefits. More recently, rosemary is thought to help ward off hunger and may aid with weight loss. “Rosemary is naturally rich in carnosic acid, a substance that keeps the pounds off by inhibiting the formation of fat cells. It also helps muscles soak up glucose, helping lower blood sugar levels and potentially moderating hunger,” says Ansel. You can buy rosemary oil or cook with it in innovative ways, like using it as a kabob skewer. Try threading stalks with fresh cantaloupe or watermelon wrapped with prosciutto and lightly grilling them.
Used for decades to treat nausea and other digestive problems, ginger has recently gained attention as a weight-loss aid. “Ginger is a natural appetite suppressant, helping you feel full so you eat less overall,” says Ansel. Researchers believe ginger creates thermogenesis, an action that helps you burn more calories. However, research from human trials is needed to confirm these findings since the weight-loss benefits of ginger have only been observed in animal studies. Regardless as to what degree ginger may reduce body weight, it’s a healthful way to spice up your meal. Use a big pinch of ground ginger to sweeten your oatmeal instead of sugar or honey.
For 4,000 years, the plant turmeric has been used to treat a variety of conditions, including arthritis, digestive problems, infections and some cancers. It is thought that the chemicals in turmeric may help decrease swelling (or inflammation), which could also have weight-loss benefits. “Shown in some animal studies, the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects exhibited by curcumin, a yellow pigment derived from the spice turmeric, may reduce body weight and increase metabolism,” says McKenzie Hall, RD, adding that human trials are needed to verify this. To use in cooking, turmeric adds a warm, earthy aroma and flavor to poultry, seafood and vegetable dishes, including curries and chutneys.
Known to have numerous health benefits, garlic can reduce blood pressure, fight inflammation, lower the risk of heart disease and possibly protect against osteoarthritis. Now, garlic may help control body weight as well. A study published in the the Journal of Nutrition showed that feeding mice garlic for seven weeks reduced their fat stores and body weights as well as lessoned the effects of the unhealthy diet on their blood and liver values. To get the most benefits from garlic, crush fresh garlic and let it sit at room temperature for at least 10 minutes before cooking with it. This will allow the enzymes that have been trapped in the garlic to be released and help retain up to 70 percent of the beneficial compounds in the garlic compared to cooking with it immediately after crushing.