Spices are indispensable when it comes to flavoring food. Specific blends of spices define entire cultures around the world, with the aroma of certain blends having the power to transport you to another place entirely. The usage of spices is very nearly an art form, with chefs carefully enhancing the flavors of their signature dishes with meticulous proportions of an array of spices.

It was actually the pursuit of spices that led to the cataclysmic discovery of America by Christopher Columbus centuries ago. So why was Columbus after spices (specifically pepper) so desperately anyway? Turns out pepper, among many other spices, have astonishing metabolic health benefits (although he was more after the significant economic advantages the spice trade brought).

Shockingly, only 1 in every 8 Americans are metabolically healthy [1]. Being considered metabolically healthy means that your blood sugar, HDL cholesterol, blood pressure, and waist size are at optimal ranges, and therefore you have lower risk for diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. If these factors are not optimal,  you may have metabolic syndrome, accompanied by a much higher risk for diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

Spices are thus an underappreciated, yet powerful tool to enhance metabolic health. Let’s read about some of the metabolic health benefits you can reap while enjoying some of your favorite spices!

 Black Pepper

Black pepper is a common spice, added to a multitude of dishes, and commonly freshly cracked atop eggs! Many people have childhood memories of a spoonful of honey garnished with black pepper being forced down their throats when they caught a cold! Black pepper contains a compound called piperine. Piperine is associated with most of black pepper’s health benefits. Specific to metabolic health, some studies have found that piperine improves blood sugar levels, and prevents blood sugar spikes, keeping levels more stable [2]. Black pepper has also been shown to decrease cholesterol levels [3]. Black pepper is also a powerful tool to increase absorption of nutrients and of other metabolically healthy spices, like turmeric [4]. Taking black pepper together with your food allows you to derive more benefit as you’re able to absorb the nutrients better!

 Chili Pepper & Cayenne Pepper

Chili pepper is one of the most commonly used spices in the world. It’s used crushed, powdered, fresh, dried—you name it! It imparts heat and spicy flavor to food, and is an essential spice for many dishes. Surprisingly, chili pepper is also good for your metabolic health! Capsaicin does most of the hard work in a chili pepper, and it’s also what makes your tongue burn when you eat spicy food! Capsaicin increases your metabolism, and also helps your body burn fat more easily [5]. Burning more fat means that you are lowering your risk for obesity and, in turn, Type 2 diabetes. Capsaicin is also great for heart health, as it has anti-inflammatory effects, and lowers cholesterol levels [5]. Separate from its metabolic benefits, capsaicin is also commonly used for pain relief [6]. It turns out that red hot chili pepper does a whole lot more than just make you run for water! In addition to chili pepper, cayenne pepper also contains a significant amount of capsaicin, and delivers comparable health benefits!

Action image of dried chilli peppers being crushed in a mortar and pestle. The chillis are flying out of the bowl as they are being smashed. Chillis are mostly whole.
Dried chilli peppers- add them to soups, stews, chili and tomato sauce


Turmeric has been used for thousands of years in homeopathic and Unani medicine [7]. It is most commonly used in southeast Asia in cooking curries, lentils, and any other dishes where its brilliant yellow coloring is welcome. Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin. Curcumin exerts powerful anti-inflammatory effects, making turmeric a useful tool in treating inflammatory conditions (such as acne, arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and even cancer) [7]. Turmeric is also used for weight management, and thus lowers risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome [8]. Studies show that turmeric aids in blood sugar stability and also lowers cholesterol [9]. When turmeric is taken with pepper, it increases its absorption and maximizes its metabolic benefits [4]. Try turmeric in a pre-mixed blend of spices, such as a “golden milk” blend, and reap multiple benefits wrapped up in a yummy drink!


Saffron—well known as one of the most expensive spices in the world—is often sought after as a gourmet ingredient for its unique and exotic flavor. The medicinal usage of saffron can be traced back to thousands of years ago, with Sumerians utilizing saffron in natural remedies. In Persia, saffron was used as an aphrodisiac and given to newlyweds in hot milk. Recent studies have found that saffron has significant benefits to metabolic health. The major components of saffron responsible for its benefits are crocin, safranal and crocetin [10]. Saffron intake has been shown to decrease the rate of weight gain, decrease resting blood pressure, increase insulin activation and stabilize blood sugar levels. All of these benefits are associated with lower risk of obesity, lower risk of diabetes, and lower risk of high blood pressure [11]. Give this luxury, gourmet spice a try—health benefits are as good an excuse as any to add a little more luxury to your life!

Commercial saffron comes from the bright red stigmas of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus) which flowers in the Fall in many different countries, including Greece, India, Iran, Afghanistan and Spain.  Saffron pairs well with cream, milk, and poultry.


Cardamom is a spice that elicits strong opinions—many people love it, while others can’t stand it! Cardamom is used to enhance savory dishes as well as desserts. It is even steeped alone as a tea, and commonly added to complement the flavor of chai. Cardamom has many beneficial properties, and has been found to have antioxidant, anti-cancer, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory effects. In terms of metabolic health, cardamom powder has been found to significantly reduce high blood pressure [12], lower blood sugar, and lead to some weight loss [13]. Next time you’re enjoying some chai, add some cardamom to the mix and reap the metabolic benefits!


Mmm, cinnamon! The scent of cinnamon evokes a comforting and cozy feeling reminiscent of the leaves changing color, snow falling, and fire crackling in the fireplace! Cinnamon pairs well with many desserts and can be added to fruits such as apples, bananas, and peaches, and to foods such as yogurt and oatmeal. Recent research has shown noteworthy benefits of cinnamon on metabolic health. Cinnamon has been shown to decrease insulin resistance, increase insulin sensitivity, decrease production of new fat cells, decrease production of reactive oxygen species, reduce blood pressure, and reduce inflammation [14]. All of these beneficial effects reduce risk of metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and obesity. So, at breakfast, don’t be afraid to top your oatmeal with an extra shake of cinnamon, and enjoy the metabolic benefits it brings—just remember to hold the sugar!

Delicious oatmeal with apple and cinnamon. Fresh natural breakfast served on wooden table
Enjoy a delicious oatmeal with apple and cinnamon for breakfast!


Cumin seeds are a common culinary addition to Mexican, African, and Asian dishes. Most commonly used in savory dishes, cumin is emerging as a metabolically healthy spice. One study found that overweight women who consumed 3 grams of cumin in their yogurt every day for 3 months had  a significant reduction in cholesterol levels, body fat, waist size, and overall weight [15]. Cumin oil was also found to reduce blood sugar, reduce A1c levels, and improve insulin sensitivity [16].

 Black Cumin

Although they share a name, black cumin and cumin are completely different! Black cumin is much more pungent, and stronger in flavor than cumin seeds. It is used in different kinds of baked goods, and various savory dishes. Black cumin seed has been around for centuries, and has historically been used as a panacea or a “cure-all”. Black cumin seed is even mentioned in the Bible. It also holds religious sanctity in Islam, with narrations from Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) naming black cumin seed as the “cure for anything but death” [17]. Recent research supports black cumin seeds’ benefits, as black cumin seed has been found to have significant anticancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-fungal, and cardioprotective properties [18]. Specific to its beneficial effects on metabolic health, black cumin seed lowers blood pressure, enhances weight loss, increases insulin secretion, and regulates blood sugar levels [19]. Because it has a strong taste, many people opt to take black cumin seed powder supplements to add this powerful spice and its metabolic benefits to their diet.

Nigella seeds and oil
Black cumin seeds can be added to oatmeal or yogurt, and can be eaten raw.


Although garlic is classified as a vegetable, its culinary use is much more along the lines of a spice, and garlic powder is often used to enhance flavor in a variety of savory dishes. Garlic is made up of a variety of compounds, each with their own health benefits. Garlic has been shown to reduce risk for cardiovascular disease, as well as have anti-cancer effects. Specific to its metabolic benefits, garlic exerts modest blood pressure reducing effects due to disulfide gas release when it is absorbed by the body. The production of this gas expands the blood vessels a tiny bit and thus reduces blood pressure [20]. Garlic has also been shown to aid reduction of blood sugar levels, and thus may lower risk of diabetes [20].  

Experiment with recipes that take advantage of any combination of these spices, and feel good about the metabolic health benefits that you may be receiving! But remember, it’s not about loading up your food with unnecessary amounts of spice, rather it’s about being aware of the immense health benefits a lifestyle of mindful choices can bring. Try a new spice or spice blend to experience your food in a new way! You can even purchase a Golden Milk spice blend, combining turmeric, black pepper, ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon with your choice of milk or plant-based milk to make the ultimate metabolically-healthy drink! Making healthier and more mindful choices every day will come together to benefit your health in a multitude of ways—and that includes metabolic benefits from spices!