Chef Rocco DiSpirito Shares His Favorite Spices for Revving Up Meals and Metabolism

Celebrity chef and health advocate Rocco DiSpirito explains why livening up your dishes with certain flavors can also burn calories.

If your home cooking tastes bland and boring, chances are your meals are missing one savory component.

"Spices are more than just flavorful agents — they also offer a variety of fat-burning and health-promoting benefits," says Rocco DiSpirito, author of the New York Times bestseller The Negative Calorie Diet: Lose Up to 10 Pounds in 10 Days with 10 All You Can Eat Foods. "On top of that, spices are full of phytochemicals that fight inflammation."

Here, the James Beard Award-winning chef shares five ways to supercharge your weight loss, well-being, and way of cooking.

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Turmeric

This bright-orange spice offers a peppery, warm, and bitter flavor and has also been valued for its medicinal properties for centuries. "Turmeric has been shown to reduce triglyceride levels, boost fat-burning, keep blood sugar steady, and fight inflammation in the body," DiSpirito says.

A small June 2011 study found that adding particular spices like turmeric to your diet can reduce the body's negative response to eating a high-fat meal, ultimately lessening your risk of heart disease. Researchers also believe its antioxidant properties may play a role in reducing oxidative stress, which is a contributing factor in aging and chronic health conditions.

Cayenne Pepper

"Regarded across various cultures as a medicinal food for at least 9,000 years, cayenne pepper can rev up your metabolism and boost fat-burning by up to 25 percent," DiSpirito says.

In fact, a small study in April 2011 discovered that the hot spice may help curb your appetite and activate your metabolism to burn extra calories post-meal, especially in people who don't use the spice that often. The secret is in capsaicin, the compound that gives the pepper its kick, which an August 2015 study suggests may be linked to living longer.

"Just remember: A little goes a long way!" DiSpirito adds.

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Horseradish

"Oh, the things you can do with horseradish!" DiSpirito says. "I love it in a Bloody Mary, paired with roast beef, and stirred into cocktail sauce."

The healthiest use, though, may be smothering broccoli with it. According to a September 2011 study, when you liven up fresh broccoli with a spicy food or sauce that contains myrosinase — an enzyme found in horseradish, as well as radishes, cabbage, and arugula — it activates the vegetable's cancer-preventive compound, sulforaphane. Delicious and nutritious!

Ginger

Ginger can enhance thermogenesis — the production of heat within the body — leading to a boost in your metabolism equivalent to burning about 43 calories after a meal, says a small October 2012 study. The same study also shows eating ginger with a meal can promote satiety, which in turn lowers the amount of calories you're likely to eat.

And the spice makes for a great post-workout recovery ingredient: September 2010 research found that daily ginger consumption may ease exercised-induced muscle soreness by up to 25 percent.

"Fresh is best, and I prefer young ginger, which is just-harvested and moist with a pink tinge and mellow flavor," DiSpirito says. "Look for it in Chinese markets in the spring and early summer. At other times, any fresh ginger from the supermarket will do."

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Garlic

Similar to ginger, this common cooking ingredient is also thermogenic. However, garlic does far more than just boosting the rate at which your body burns calories — it also has numerous cardiovascular benefits.

"Garlic can cut blood pressure and does so by generating a substance called nitrous oxide, which can relax vessels, leading to decreased blood pressure in both people with normal blood pressure and those with hypertension," DiSpirito says.

The stinky spice may also help prevent certain types of heart disease, namely cardiomyopathy, which occurs in people with diabetes, according to September 2010 research

"Garlic also helps normalize cholesterol," DiSpirito adds. "It acts like a natural detergent in the arteries by breaking up fat molecules."

And when it comes to this flavorful ingredient, older may be better. February 2014 research found that aged, sprouted garlic — the kind that have green shoots coming out of the bulbs — possess more heart-healthy antioxidants than the fresher variety.

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