The 10 Best Spices To Foster Weight Loss & Boost Your Metabolism

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist By Molly Knudsen, M.S., RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Molly Knudsen, M.S., RDN is a Registered Dietician Nutritionist with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Texas Christian University and a master’s in nutrition interventions, communication, and behavior change from Tufts University. She lives in the Greater Boston Area, and enjoys connecting people to the food they eat and how it influences health and wellbeing.
Ginger, turmeric, mint, peppercorn, crushed red pepper, bay leaves, star anise, and turmeric with hand, spoon, and linen

Image by Suzanne Clements / Stocksy

Spices have been, well, spicing up people’s lives for hundreds if not thousands of years. In the kitchen, spices are used to add color and heighten the taste and aroma of food. But spices also have therapeutic properties, protecting and possibly alleviating symptoms from acute and chronic ailments. Spices have been used as a form of medicine throughout history, and science is now just being able to capture what spices have to offer for our health. One of the not so obvious health benefits of spices? Their effect on weight loss. 

So here it is: These are the top spices (and the occasional herb) to foster weight loss and boost your metabolism. All of course while making your meals more flavorful. 

1. Cayenne pepper. 

The sweat you work up after eating a lot of this spice is bound to burn calories right? Not quite, but it’s also not far off. Capsaicin is the active, and pungent, ingredient of cayenne pepper, giving the spice its signature kick, as well as its health benefits. Capsaicin is a member of the capsicum family, which includes bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, and other chili peppers. The hotter a pepper is, the more capsaicin it will have. 

Capsaicin is known to target the nervous system and has been shown to increase satiety and thermogenesis (which refers to your body’s ability to produce heat from burning calories), all of which affect weight loss.

In one study of 24 people, researchers investigated the effects of 0.9 grams of red pepper (0.25% capsaicin) added to tomato juice for a spicy concoction and found a significant reduction in energy (or calories) and fat intake after consumption. 

Another study of 25 people wanted to see if there was a difference in thermogenesis after red pepper consumption between people who regularly consume spicy foods and people who don’t. This study did find that 0.9 grams of red pepper consumption enhanced thermogenesis in participants. This indicates that the body was producing more heat, and therefore burning more calories. Another interesting finding from this study was that these effects were even more amplified in people who didn’t regularly consume spicy foods. So if you don’t eat spicy foods now, consider this is your cue to start. 

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How much of this spice should you add to your diet?

The 0.9 grams of pepper used in both of these studies equates to about ¼ teaspoon. If you can’t handle the heat from that amount, feel free to split it out in two separate servings.  

How can you use it? 

Try adding this spice to homemade hot sauces, taco seasonings, baked chicken, dirty rice, or spicy mango smoothies.

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2. Turmeric. 

This spice may be best known for its star role in curry powder and turning your favorite curry dishes yellow. The active compound in turmeric is curcumin, which has proven to have numerous health benefits and may play a role on weight status. 

A recent analysis of over 21 studies assessed curcumin’s influence on weight loss for 1,604 people with metabolic syndrome. Curcumin intake was associated with a significant reduction in BMI, weight, and waist circumference. This analysis included studies where the amount of curcumin consumed varied between 70 and 2,400 milligrams per day, so there was no clear cut value for how much curcumin is needed to see the most benefit.

How much of this spice should you add to your diet?

Although there is no clear cut answer for this, the World Health Organization has determined that 1.4 milligrams per pound of body weight (or 0-3 milligrams per kilogram) is an acceptable daily intake for curcumin. So that would equal about 190 milligrams for a 135 pound woman and about 270 milligrams for a 190 pound man. Incorporating ½ to 1 teaspoon of turmeric in the diet per day can help you reach that goal. Always combine black pepper with turmeric before eating, because it boosts the amount of curcumin that can be absorbed by the body. 

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How can you use it?

Sprinkle this spice on curry dishes, golden milk, scrambled eggs, and quinoa. 

3. Ginger. 

Ginger is a tropical plant, and its root (or underground stem called a rhizome) is what we commonly eat and cook with. Along with ginger’s playful zing, this spice has many health benefits. Although it is most known for nausea and digestion issues, ginger is also friendly to the waistline. 

A systematic review and meta-analysis published in 2019, evaluated 14 randomized controlled trials with a total of 473 participants, found that ginger supplementation significantly decreased body weight and waist to hip ratio as well as decreased insulin resistance (meaning, the body is better able to better control its blood sugar levels). 

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How much of this spice should you add to your diet?

Ginger is considered safe to eat, although it could interact with some medications, so it may be a good idea to ask your healthcare practitioner if there are any concerns. Studies show that two to three grams of ginger daily is safe to consume, but eating more than four grams isn’t recommended

How can you use it?

Ginger is great to add to hot tea, stir fry, smoothies, soup, and baked fish.

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4. Cumin. 

Cumin is a popular spice, but you might not know that it’s actually the powder from the grinding of dried seeds of the Cuminum cyminum, a close relative of the parsley family. In traditional medicine, cumin has been used to treat chronic diseases

In one small, randomized clinical trial, 88 women with overweight and obesity were assigned to either take three grams of cumin powder with a yogurt two times a day for three months or to eat the same amount of yogurt without cumin. The women in the cumin group had significant reductions in weight, BMI, waist circumference, and fat mass at the end of the study. Bonus: the cumin group has had improved cholesterol and triglyceride levels! 

How much of this spice should you add to your diet?

Cumin is generally considered safe to eat, especially in amounts that you would typically use to season food. There are some cumin supplements on the market that may come in higher doses, so if you’re interested in adding those to your routine, it may be wise to talk to your doctor first.

How can you use it?

Add cumin to yogurt, lentils, taco seasoning, guac, and roasted cauliflower (a great opportunity to sprinkle some turmeric, too!)

5. Mustard seeds.

One older, but highly cited study from the Human Nutrition. Clinical Nutrition journal found that eating one teaspoon of mustard could boost metabolism by 25%, lasting up to several hours after eating. But keep in mind, you probably won’t see this surge in burning calories from that familiar hot dog condiment--in this case, the mustard seed in spice form is key.

How much of this spice should you add to your diet?

As little as one teaspoon of mustard yielded benefits from that study, but it’s quite easy to eat more than that as part of a meal or snack. Which is great, because one teaspoon of mustard taps in at around three to five calories, with nine to 15 calories per tablespoon. Opt for choices like whole grain mustard, hot mustard, or English mustard, as the heat and spiciness from these varieties may add to its metabolism enhancing powers.   

How can you use it? 

Incorporate mustard seed into your sandwiches, salad dressings, and sauces.

6. Cinnamon. 

Rather than boosting your metabolism, cinnamon can help you drop some pounds in a less direct way. Cinnamon may help stabilize blood sugar by lowering the amount of glucose (or sugar) circulating in the blood and by promoting insulin release (the hormone that helps lower and utilize your blood sugar). 

These mechanisms prevent you from experiencing spikes and dips in your blood sugar levels, which can make you hungry. Cinnamon’s balancing of blood sugar act may be more prominent in people with diabetes or with insulin resistance (significantly reducing fasting blood glucose levels by 18 to 29%), but it can also be beneficial for people without those conditions. More research is needed on both ends before we can be sure.

How much of this spice should you add to your diet?

Cinnamon in moderation is great, and a little sprinkle can go a long way for flavoring purposes. There are two different types of cinnamon and they should be dosed a little differently: Cassia and Ceylon cinnamon. 

Generally speaking, one teaspoon of Cassia cinnamon per day is considered safe for adults according to European guidelines, and slightly higher amounts of Ceylon cinnamon can be tolerated. Search out Ceylon cinnamon to be on the safe side. 

How can you use it? 

Sprinkle cinnamon on oatmeal, coffee, tea, smoothies, sliced blood oranges, and roasted or warmed apple slices (yum!).

7. Fenugreek. 

So fenugreek is technically an herb, but it’s also part of the spice blend garam masala. Fenugreek seeds have been historically used to treat a variety of health conditions, but a novel finding of this plant extract shows it can help people eat less fat.

A small study of 12 healthy men compared a high dose of fenugreek seed extract (1176 milligrams), and low dose (588 milligrams), and a placebo pill per day for two weeks. The high dose fenugreek extract significantly decreased the amount of fat the men were eating per day, leading to them consuming less calories overall. 

How much of this spice should you add to your diet?

This study shows that fenugreek seed extract at doses of up to 1176 milligrams is safe and tolerated by healthy individuals. Fenugreek is not recommended for pregnant women, and may not be recommended for women with hormone related cancers. Fenugreek may also interact with some medications, so if you're on a medication and interested in adding this herb to your diet, talk to your healthcare provider about potential interactions. 

How can you use it? 

Combine it with other spices (fenugreek powder alone is not the most appealing, and it pairs nicely with cumin and coriander), or add it to tomato sauces or a roast chicken. 

8. Black pepper.

Black pepper is commonly found on kitchen tables throughout the United States, but it’s so much more than a last minute addition to your meal. The active ingredient in your pepper shaker is called piperine and has been found to have immune-boosting, anti-oxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties. 

Lab and animal studies also indicate that piperine may positively influence body weight and other markers of health. In one animal study, rats fed a high fat diet with high blood lipid levels were either supplemented with piperine or an appetite supressor, while continuing eating a high fat diet. At the end, the piperine group had significant reductions in body weight, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, but there was surprisingly no change in the rats’ food intake. This suggests that piperine may promote weight loss without affecting appetite and without eating less food (and who doesn’t want that?).

How much of this spice should you add to your diet?

There is currently no recommended dose or safety dose for black pepper. Eating a lot of black pepper may cause an upset stomach, but adding black pepper on a regular basis to your meals is a great way to reap some of piperine’s benefits!

How can you use it?

You likely know what to do with this one… but in case you need some inspiration, black pepper pairs nicely with eggs, roasted vegetables, avocado toast, and roasted chicken.

9. Saffron. 

Saffron, dubbed the most expensive spice in the world, is found in many Mediterranean and Asian dishes and is known for its golden hue in foods. Research suggests that saffron may be beneficial in the treatment of heart disease, high blood pressure, stomach conditions, and more

In one preclinical study, rats who were being fed a high fat diet that also received saffron extract supplementation had significantly decreased food intake compared to just eating the high fat diet alone. This may indicate that saffron can affect satiety or lower appetite, but since this study was done in animals, it’s difficult to correlate those measures. 

However, a clinical trial of 84 patients with coronary artery disease were randomized to either receive 30 milligrams of saffron in a water solution, 30 milligrams crocin (the main pigment in saffron), or a placebo. Patients in the saffron group had significantly decreases in BMI, waist circumference and fat mass compared to the crocin group. Saffron was also noted to be the most effective of the three groups in suppressing appetite and food intake, showing that, in this scenario, the spice as a whole has more benefits than the pigment alone. 

How much of this spice should you add to your diet?

Saffron is generally safe to include in the diet with few side effects, if any. And you only need as little as 30 milligrams a day to see some health benefits! So if you decide to purchase this pricy spice, you won’t be using all of it at once.

How can you use it? 

Pair this spice with complementary herbs (cilantro, basil rosemary), or add it to stews, risotto, rice dishes, chicken, bone marrow, and seafood. 

10. Rosemary. 

Rosemary, another sneaky herb to make it onto this list, is a member of the mint family, and its leaves (fresh, dried, or ground) are used to flavor food. From antioxidant to neuroprotective properties, rosemary can be a healthy addition to a meal. But can it also help with weight loss?

The short answer? Maybe. One study showed that rats fed a high fat diet with rosemary leaf extract had a significant reduction in weight and fat mass gain in about seven weeks. However, more research is needed before we can make that same conclusion in humans. 

How much of this spice should you add to your diet?

Rosemary is generally considered safe, but you should not consume more than 4 to 6 grams of the dried herb in a day. Talk to your healthcare provider about the right dose of rosemary for your condition and potential interactions with medications (rosemary may interfere with some blood clotting and blood pressure drugs to name a few). 

How can you use it? 

Rosemary is great on chicken, eggs, lentils, roasted winter squash, and roasted eggplant. 

The bottom line on spices for weight loss?

Spices pack a flavor and nutritional punch to any meal or snack; and some spices may even go as far as helping you shed a few pounds. 

There is no limit to the number of spices you can include in your diet in a given day. If you want to add rosemary to your breakfast scramble, whole grain mustard to your sandwich at lunch, and cumin and cayenne pepper to your chili for dinner, go right ahead! What can cause some problems, however, is if you eat way too much of one spice at one time. And of course, be aware of any potential interactions with spices and medication. 

And remember: With spices, a little goes a long way! 

Ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.

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