Saffron, an ancient spice with a crimson red hue, is more than just beautiful to look at. Its delicious flavor and its labor-intensive harvesting process have made it a luxury item. The high cost may lead to a high benefit, however, because saffron could help you feel your best with some amazing health benefits.
On sand-swept farms halfway around the globe, villagers pluck delicate red threads from inside more than 50,000 crocus flowers to produce a single pound of the world’s most prized spice: saffron. It’s not just about delighting taste buds. Research shows that this antioxidant-rich spice could deepen sleep, ease hot flashes, and even slow memory loss in Alzheimer’s patients. Plus, saffron may help you slim down. Some studies have shown that taking a saffron supplement helped women lose weight by curbing their appetites over eight weeks. “It’s a feel-good way to get to your happy weight!” says Arnee Buchwald, 65, who credits saffron with helping her drop weight.
While saffron has a reputation for being expensive, these days, many supermarkets carry small packages for less than $5. And the spice’s famous layers of flavor — melon, honey, sea air, smoke and more — make it worth a little splurge. Saffron is delicious in a variety of dishes or even as a tea. You can also take saffron in a daily supplement, but check with your doctor first.
“I ate whenever I walked near the kitchen. I couldn’t resist sugar or junk food,” admits Arnee Buchwald, 65. As her weight crept up, her mood darkened. “I was feeling very alone and sad. I knew I had to take better care of myself.” A wellness expert encouraged the Florida grandma to up her protein and ditch processed food. “For flavor, I started adding saffron and other spices to veggies, fish, and other dishes.” A friend told her about saffron supplements. “Right away, my appetite was transformed. I would forget to eat.” Her waist slimmed and her spirits lifted. “I no longer have the hunger or sugar cravings that had ruled my life. It’s easy to lose weight when you’re not hungry,” says Buchwald.
Saffron’s Number One Secret
Antioxidant compounds in saffron reduce inflammation and improve blood-sugar control, factors linked to good health and enhanced fat burning. But what sets saffron apart from other nutrient-dense herbs? A unique ability to boost levels of serotonin, aka the “happiness hormone.” When serotonin is within normal levels, you feel calmer, happier, and more emotionally stable, which may help you stop obsessing over food, thereby curbing your appetite.
Research shows that refined sugar and carbs can raise serotonin levels, which is why anxiety, sadness, and exhaustion tend to make us reach for processed comfort food. The great thing about saffron is it boosts serotonin and gives a similar sense of comfort, but without the excess sugar and calories.
After battling a health crisis, Navy vet Victoria Calloway found herself 85 pounds heavier — and, despite an active lifestyle, she struggled to lose an ounce. “My knees and back hurt so bad, plus I developed sleep apnea and always felt tired,” says the Georgia grandmother. “It was hard for me to get through the days.” She tried Weight Watchers, “but I was throwing money away.”
So, when her insurance began covering lapband surgery, her doctor recommended it. The procedure used a band to make Victoria’s stomach smaller so it would fill up faster. Satisfied with tinier portions, “I was counting calories and losing weight.” But as time passed, life got stressful. “That part of the night when everything stops, when you’re lying in bed or just hanging out, I used eat chips or whatever was around,” she shares. Her progress stopped completely. Luckily, a friend told her saffron helps with stress eating. When Victoria tried the same supplements as Arnee, they didn’t seem to work. “But on the fourth night, I was a little better.” By the end of the week, she was down 10 pounds. By the end of the month, “my hunger was much less and my cravings decreased to none. The urge to stress-eat was gone.”
So far, with an assist from saffron, Victoria has shed 138 pounds and is still losing. “The supplements are such a simple thing, but they stopped food from controlling my life. All my health issues are gone, and I couldn’t be happier!”
Easy Saffron Rice
Saffron turns ordinary rice into an appetite-shrinking flavor bomb.
Ingredients (serves 4):
- 1 large pinch of saffron
- 1 ½ cups cups chicken broth
- 1 cup chopped onion and peppers
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup basmati rice, rinsed
Soak saffron in ¼ cup warm broth; set aside. In pot over medium heat, cook veggies in butter until tender. Stir in rice and a pinch of salt. Add saffron and all broth. Cover. Cook until liquid absorbs, 20 minutes.
Low-carb version: Soak saffron as above; add to 1 pound frozen riced cauliflower blend prepared with butter.
Just add a pinch of saffron and magic happens!
No matter how you get saffron, the spice will help naturally lower appetite. Adding it to food is easy, and we’ve rounded up ideas to inspire you. To maximize weight loss, aim to eat healthy fare and take your doctor’s recommended daily dosage of saffron supplements.
Soak a pinch of saffron in warm water for 5 minutes. Blitz with 1 cup coconut milk, ½ banana or avocado, 1 tablespoon nut butter, ½ teaspoon ground cardamom, and ice to taste.
Magic Autumn Salad
Crush a small pinch of saffron gently with a wooden spoon; mix into 1 cup olive-oil vinaigrette. Use to dress fall salads of kale, roasted squash, feta and nuts.
Sweet Dreams Tea
Add a pinch of saffron, 1 cinnamon stick, ¼ lemon and sweetener to taste to 2 cups boiling water. Simmer 5 to 7 minutes, strain, and enjoy.
As always, get your doctor’s okay before taking any new supplement or trying any new dietary strategy.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.