Research has already shown that black pepper can help improve digestion, reduce your risk of cancer, and boost your brain power, but a new study has found that this ancient spice can also help you lose weight.
Also known as kali mirch, black pepper is indigenous only to the southwestern India province of Kerala. This delicious spice is a staple in most people’s pantries these days, but as early as 1000 BCE, pepper was a valuable luxury, available only via the spice trade. Thankfully, you don’t have to go much further than the grocery store or a nice restaurant to find freshly ground pepper. And with the latest research into its health benefits, you’re going to want pepper now more than ever.
Researchers at the Sri Venkateswara University have found that black pepper can reduce the harmful effects of high-calorie diets. For 22 weeks, male rats were fed a high-fat diet. In week 16, the experimental group of rats received piperonal derived from piperine. Piperine is the organic compound in black pepper that gives it its characteristic taste.
During the study, the research team measured subjects’ plasma levels of glucose, insulin and lipids. Bone mineral composition and density were also studied via dual-energy X-ray (DXA) images, and fat tissue was measured using MRI technology.
At the conclusion of the study, the team found the experimental group had a lower body fat percentage than the rats who did not consume the compound. The test rats also weighed less, had stronger bones and lower blood sugar levels.
Although the study focused solely on the anti-obesity properties of black pepper, and not its anti-inflammatory properties which might also aid in weight loss, the results are promising. It certainly has us reaching for the pepper grinder more often.
What’s the best black pepper?
Whenever possible, use fresh ground pepper from a pepper mill. As soon as you grind pepper, it releases the un-oxidized center of the peppercorns, giving you the most potent health benefits from the spice. Whole peppercorns can also be stored in the freezer, while ground pepper cannot. Store-bought ground pepper may also contain extra spices or fillers.
Here are some creative ways to get more black pepper:
Drink your pepper
A sprinkle of black pepper in your chai tea or turmeric golden milk adds an extra little kick to your morning beverage. If you drink bone broth, add some spice to it with a little freshly-ground black pepper.
Spice up your fruit
Try fresh ground pepper next time you nosh on melon slices during the summer. Add pepper to your favorite homemade raspberry vinaigrette or pair the spice with acidic fruits like pineapple or tart plums.
Use black pepper essential oil
A drop or two of black pepper essential oil to a pot of vegetarian chili or your favorite pasta sauce packs a big punch of healthful flavor. Add the oil slowly and taste test as you cook if you’re sensitive to the heat.
Don’t be afraid to add pepper to rubs for grass-fed steaks, marinades for grilled vegetables or even your fruit smoothies. The sweet flavor of strawberries, in particular, mixes perfectly with fresh ground pepper.
Other health benefits of black pepper
Numerous studies show that black pepper can help relieve aches and pains through its anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties. Even when applied topically, black pepper helps relieve physical pain. In a 2014 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, subjects who experienced neck pain applied a cream of black pepper, marjoram, peppermint and lavender essential oils to their necks each day over four weeks. The group who used the cream experienced improved pain tolerance and improved neck pain.
Another study found that rats who were fed high-fat diets and black pepper had lower overall cholesterol levels than the control group. Their triglycerides were also lower. Most notably, subjects’ HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels elevated while their LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels fell.
When mixed with turmeric or cinnamon essential oil, black pepper essential oil can improve circulation and stimulates mucus flow. It has also been shown to have antiviral properties and targets a virus without damaging the cells around it.
Whether you like to keep it safe when adding pepper to your day or you decide to try some of the more adventurous recipes we’ve suggested, black pepper can help you live healthier. It might even help you lose a little more weight and feel better after you come off the running trail.
What’s your favorite way to include pepper in your diet?
— Megan Winkler