Several spices common to Indian cooking can contribute to health and weight loss.
Black pepper has great healing properties and can help with weight loss. It improves digestion, frees nutrients for absorption and can help stimulate the metabolism, the body's mechanism for burning calories. The component in black pepper that makes it taste pungent is called piperine. It stimulates receptors in the brain and nervous system. Researchers suggest this effect increases food's thermogenic effect (the amount of energy it takes to digest food) and results in a greater number of calories burned. Freshly ground black pepper seems to have the most concentrated amounts of this compound, so grind it liberally at the dinner table.
Fresh or dried ginger boosts calorie-burning by causing tissues to use more energy. Ginger can also improve joint function and help control cholesterol. Ginger works directly on the stomach and liver to reduce nausea because it reduces the level of acidity in the stomach, lowering the rate of gastric secretions. Use ginger in sweet and savory recipes---particular Indian and Thai preparations.
Another popular spice in Indian cuisine, turmeric, may help reduce the absorption of fat by the body. Researchers reported in the Journal of Nutrition in 2009 that curcumin, the major polyphenol found in turmeric, reduced weight gain in mice and suppressed the growth of fat tissue. It is not yet known if this effect occurs in humans as well, but curcumin has a number of positive health benefits.
Cayenne pepper and other hot peppers (paprika, chili powders) can also boost metabolism and help burn fat. Eating foods seasoned generously with hot pepper also helps reduce the appetite and makes you feel full sooner, resulting in the consumption of fewer overall calories. The compound in these peppers called capsaicin is responsible for these effects and can also stimulate the production of adrenaline, which increases the body's propensity to burn stored fat and sugars. For about a half hour after consumption, capsaicin keeps the release of insulin in check---thus preventing crashes in blood sugar and the resulting cravings for sugar and carbohydrates. Cayenne and other peppers can be added to all sorts of soups and stews to add a little heat and depth of flavor.