Can Spices Help You Lose Weight?

Can adding spices to your diet charge up your metabolism and speed weight loss? Nutrition Diva has the pros and cons of a new diet fad. 

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #405

Padme wrote this week to tell me about a new diet she’s been on and is very excited about.  According to the creator, this eight-week meal plan will shrink your waist, melt your fat, and give you the body of your dreams.

All the recipes, which Padme reports are both delicious and filling, incorporate lots of spices like cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne, and black pepper. The idea is that all these spices speed weight loss by flushing impurities from your body and super-charging your metabolism.

After the first week, which focuses on “detox,” Padme has already lost seven pounds and is absolutely thrilled with her results. But she had some questions:

“I know I’m going to hit a plateau eventually. Are there specific combinations of spices that work better together? Are there other spices I could add that rev up my metabolism even more? Could I lose weight even faster by increasing the amount I consume?  I’m willing to eat an entire jar or turmeric if it will melt away another inch.”

Does Spicy Food Speed Your Metabolism?

Increasing the amount of spice or combining them differently won’t accelerate Padme’s weight loss because the spices—as tasty and nutritious as they may be—have virtually nothing to do with the weight loss she’s experienced.

Spices do have benefits: Cinnamon has been shown to help stabilize blood sugar, for example. Other spices reduce inflammation—turmeric, garlic, and ginger are particularly potent anti-inflammatories. They are also pretty good at thinning your blood. In small amounts, that’s generally considered to be a good thing. But anyone taking blood thinning medications or with a surgical procedure coming up would want to consume these blood-thinners in moderation, if at all.

Many spices are also potent antioxidants. But as I’ve talked about before, there comes a point at which more antioxidants don’t actually do you any extra good—and that threshold is a lot lower than most people think. It’s also possible to get too many antioxidants, although this is usually a concern with supplements, not foods.

Contrary to the author’s claims, however, this spicy menu will not alkalize your body, cleanse your body of impurities, or increase your metabolic rate enough to translate into pounds—or even ounces—lost.

This diet works for one very simple reason: it is low in calories (about 1500 per day). It’s also quite low in carbohydrates (about 20% of calories), which explains the rapid initial weight loss. A sudden restriction in carbs will usually cause the body to shed quite a bit of water.  This is not a sustained effect but rather a one-time adjustment. It’s also reversible: If you start eating more carbs, that water will come right back on.  Either way, it’s not fat you’re losing or gaining: it’s just water.


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.