If any herb or spice helped you to drop pounds safely (and quickly), you’d already know about it—it would be front page news. Sorry to say, it doesn’t exist. The most effective herbal extracts for weight loss are actually prohibited from being marketed and sold in the U.S. That’s because they contain ephedra, a plant chemical similar to methamphetamine, with the same risk for psychiatric problems, stroke, irregular heart rhythm, and even death as that once-popular (now illegal) diet drug.
Still, there are some herbs and spices that can give you an edge when it comes to dropping pounds, and have other benefits that make them worth adding to your diet as well. These four have the most research supporting their use for weight loss.
RELATED: Cancer-Fighting Spices
Turmeric: This bright yellow Indian spice that’s an essential ingredient of curry contains curcumin, a plant compound that has been found to fight fat a number of ways. In mice, curcumin directly interacts with fat cells, pancreatic cells (which produce insulin), liver cells and muscles. It inhibits the growth of fat cells, reduces insulin resistance and leptin resistance, making fat cells more responsive to this hormonal satiety (“fullness”) signal. So it helps to regulate blood sugar, reduce the storage of fat in the liver, and protect against obesity-related inflammation.
Indians who see the protective benefits of turmeric get about 100mg to 200mg a day in their diet. But to drop pounds, you can safely work your way from about 500mg up to as much as 8,000mg day, says Dr. Bharat Aggarwal, of M.D. Anderson Cancer Research Center in Houston. Most people get these large amounts from a combination of diet and turmeric supplements or concentrated curcumin extract.
Cayenne: Hot red pepper may also help you drop pounds. In fact, any seasoning that makes you sweat–including mustard and any kind of pepper–will increase your metabolism slightly and cause a very modest calorie burn because it “wastes” calories as heat. Some research also suggests hot red pepper can ease appetite and decrease levels of ghrelin, a hormone involved in promoting appetite. There’s also intriguing research that red pepper may stimulate the breakdown of fat and inhibit fat storage. Add as much hot red pepper as you can tolerate to foods, or take cayenne capsules. Do note that you’ll have to keep cranking up the heat over time to see optimal effects, as your body tends to adapt fairly quickly to the hot stuff.
Cinnamon: This lovely spice seems to help with weight loss because it improves insulin sensitivity, which means that helps to lower blood levels of insulin, which is a fat-storage hormone and so, may help reduce your body’s tendency to store excess calories as fat, especially as abdominal fat. One study showed that as little as one teaspoon of cinnamon per day can boost the body’s ability to drop pounds by reducing blood sugar and promoting healthier processing of carbohydrates. Research done with a water-soluble extract of cinnamon found that daily doses can lead to significant increases in lean body mass and a reduction in overall body fat. Other research has found that people who consumed three grams of cinnamon daily had improved insulin function and increased levels of a peptide reported to delay the emptying of the stomach. Delayed stomach emptying may help people eat less, preventing overeating which can lead to spikes in blood sugar.
While most people can safely add a teaspoon or so of cinnamon to their daily diet, do note that cinnamon contains a compound called coumarin, which is a liver toxin when consumed consistently or in very high doses. You can get a cinnamon extract that has had this constituent removed (one brand name: Cinnulin PF).