Saffron has been a coveted spice for its color, flavor, and medicinal properties for over 3,500 years[i]. It only takes one grain to color 45 liters of water a golden yellow, and it was also used to dye the bright orange robes worn by Buddhist priests in India.
A pinch of saffron added to risotto or paella enlivens the flavor of these traditional dishes. Saffron was closely studied by Hippocrates, and widely used for its anti-depressant, anti-oxidant and digestive benefits. But could this ancient spice also help with weight-loss?
A Luxurious Spice
Saffron is made from the flower of the Crocus sativus plant, and grows in warm humid climates like India and the Middle East. Each lavender colored crocus flower contains three saffron stigmas, which are dried to make the spice. The flowers all bloom at once in the autumn, over a period of two or three weeks.
This luxurious spice is harvested by hand, as in ancient times, and growers must work long hours to pick all the flowers before they wilt. It takes over 75,000 stigmas to make 500g of spice, which explains why saffron is so expensive and can retail for over £2,000 per kilo! Thankfully, you only need to use a few milligrams of this luxurious spice to feel its benefits.
Saffron For Weight Loss
Saffron was first cultivated in Greece[ii], and used to treat colds, coughs, insomnia, flatulence and heart trouble. More recently, studies have shown that saffron also has potential as a weight loss aid.
In 2010, Nutrition Research (New York) studied the effect of saffron on weight. A group of overweight women were given a supplement containing this extract, while other groups received a placebo. The group that took the saffron extract reduced their snacking by 55%, reported higher levels of satiety and lost more weight than the group that had taken the placebo[iii].
The Happy Spice
There’s an undeniable link between eating and emotions. Most of us have experienced comfort eating, reaching for those biscuits after a difficult meeting at work, or that slice of cake after a stressful day. Feeling low, stressed or anxious can make it much harder to stick to a healthy eating plan, especially if you’re just starting out on your weight loss journey. But saffron can help:
The decrease in snacking seen in the study mentioned above could be due to saffron’s anti-depressant properties. Numerous studies have shown that supplementing 30mg of saffron a day is as effective as taking anti-depressant medication like fluoxetine[iv], without the negative side effects associated with prescription drugs. That said, saffron could be toxic if you take too much (see How to take saffron below).
The soothing benefits can even be felt without ingesting it. The smell alone has been shown to reduce anxiety, by lowering the body’s levels of cortisol[v]. Just twenty minutes exposure to saffron’s fragrance can help you feel calmer, more peaceful and in control.
If you suffer from symptoms of pre-menstrual syndrome, you may want to give saffron a try. A recent study showed that 15mg, twice a day reduces physical and emotional symptoms of PMS, such as cramps, headaches, bloating, irritability, mood-swings and food cravings, by 50%[vi].
Anti-oxidants are vital for good health, because they protect the body’s cells from damage caused by free radicals such as environmental pollution and processed foods. They strengthen the immune system and also help combat certain cancers. Including fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet is the best way of ensuring you get plenty of anti-oxidants and enjoy all of their health boosting properties.
How To Take Saffron
For regular supplementation, it is advised not to exceed 30mg per day. Evidence suggests taking double that dose, 60mg a day, can become toxic to the body after eight weeks of continuous usage. There are many supplements that boast very high saffron content, some up to 177mg per dose, and these should not be taken for long periods of time. High doses of saffron (1,200mg) can cause nausea and vomiting[ix].
As A Spice
Saffron is a delicious spice; it adds subtle earthy undertones to food. Adding a tiny sprinkle to your cooking will enhance the flavor of your dishes, give your mood a lift and help you to lose weight.
As A Supplement
If you’re not keen on the taste, or prefer a more standardized way of taking this healthy spice, you can also include it in your diet as a supplement. Aim to buy from a reputable manufacturer, and focus on the supplements that contain active ingredients and a safe amount of saffron extract, such as Veridian Saffron Extract (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Viridian-Saffron-Extract-30mg-Marigold/dp/B003TOBP9O).
Spice Up Your Diet
Saffron is indeed a splendid spice. Not only does it enliven the flavor of food and dye clothes vivid hues of yellow and orange, it boosts the immune system and brightens mood. Supplementing saffron as part of a healthy diet can help you to feel happier, cut down on snacking and lose weight.
Notice - It is advisable to seek the advice of a doctor before starting any supplementation, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, suffer from a medical condition or take any medication.
Note - It is advisable to seek the advice of a doctor before starting any supplementation, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, suffer from a medical condition or take any medication.
[ii] McGee, H. (2004), On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, Scribner, ISBN 978-0-684-80001-1