You might find that when cutting back on calories in order to lose weight, foods with less fat, salt and sugar don't taste as good as foods notoriously high in those ingredients. A great way to add a boatload of flavor to your food without adding additional sodium, sugar or fat is to incorporate a lot of herbs and spices into your dishes. Not only will this enhance the flavors of your ingredients and delight your palate, research has found that some herbs and spices may also house antioxidants and anti-inflammatory components, and some may even help with weight loss.
A study out of the University of Colorado found that people liked a reduced-fat meal (containing 395 calories) just as much as a full-fat meal (containing about 650 calories) as long as the reduced-fat meal was infused with flavorful herbs and spices. The study participants were given randomized meals and then had to rate how much they liked them using a nine-point Likert scale. The study participants liked the reduced-fat meal that had herbs and spices added (such as garlic, oregano and paprika) just as much as the full-fat meal. However, when served the same reduced-fat dish without any herbs or spices added, they liked the dish less--proving that the herbs and spices are what amped up the flavor.
Herbs and spices provide a double-whammy when it comes to helping you slim down because not only do they allow you to enjoy lower-calorie meals with just as much flavor as their full-fat counterparts, the spices and herbs themselves may have calorie-burning properties. Try these to help boost flavor and slim down:
Spices that are hot, such as cayenne pepper, cumin, curry and chili powder, can slow down your eating because you often have to take sips of water between bites to cut down the heat. That burning sensation comes from a compound called capsaicin, found in cayenne pepper, which has been shown to suppress appetite and speed up metabolism.
Want to add a boost of flavor to your oatmeal without adding bulge to your waistline? Cinnamon has been found to lower blood sugar and LDL cholesterol while also spiking your metabolism.
Ground mustard seed not only adds a jolt of flavor to your eggs, it fires up your metabolism by about 25 percent.
Cumin seed, found either ground or whole, is often used in Middle Eastern or Indian cuisine. Cumin has been found to ease digestion and bolster your immune system, both of which leave you feeling healthy enough to hit the gym!
Turmeric (also referred to as curcumin), a vibrant orange-yellow spice commonly used in India, is often found in curry powder. It houses anti-inflammatory compounds and can help break down fat.
Ginseng (especially panax ginseng) is well known for its ability to help with nausea and improve digestion. Some studies have linked ginseng with weight loss and increased insulin sensitivity. It's also been found to increase your body temperature, possibly burning more calories.
Black pepper--one of the most common household spices--contains piperine, which has been found to aid in digestion, burn fat more rapidly and stop new cells of fat from forming.
Cardamom, which tastes both spicy and sweet, has been found to help stabilize blood sugar levels, helping control your appetite.
Dozens of other herbs and spices can also add flavor to your food as you cut back on calories. So go ahead--spice up your life!
Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children.