You may value saffron for the flavor it adds to foods, but there's some preliminary evidence that the essential oils that give saffron its distinct aroma and color, safranal and crocin, may also be helpful to someone on a weight-loss diet. However, you may not want to count saffron as the only change you make when trying to drop those unwanted pounds. Consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet or adding a dietary supplement.
Saffron, Snacking and Appetite Control
A randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study published in 2010 in Nutrition Research investigated the effects of a saffron extract supplement made with the essential oils on appetite and snacking in a group of slightly overweight women. The women were asked to keep a food diary but were not told to restrict food intake. The researchers found that the women taking the supplement snacked less and lost more weight than the control group. While this study may be promising for those struggling with their weight, more research is necessary.
How It Works
The authors of the study in Nutrition Research report that many people make unhealthy food choices as a way to cope with stress. According to a 2015 review article published in Drug Research, the essential oils in saffron have antidepressant and anti-anxiety properties. It has been theorized that these oils may help reduce appetite and the desire to snack on unhealthy foods by improving mood through these mechanisms.
However, while saffron and its oils have been the subject of numerous studies to test their effects on depression and mood, the results have been mixed, and the review article suggests conducting large-scale clinical studies to verify results.
When taking saffron oils in supplement form, there are potential health concerns. In amounts of 5 grams or more, saffron can be toxic; at 20 grams, it can be fatal, according to Drug Research. In addition to toxicity, you may also experience side effects when using the spice as a supplement, such as dizziness, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea in mild cases, and numbness, yellowing of the skin or eyes, or spontaneous bleeding in extreme cases.
Use Spice Instead
To get the benefits without any ill effects, consider using saffron as food instead of taking it in supplement form. Saffron has only 7 calories per tablespoon. Plus, it's a source of calcium, magnesium, potassium and vitamins A and C, although not in significant amounts. You can add saffron to rice, soup or stews. Or add a pinch to a veggie-based smoothie for a little punch. Be sure to crush and soak your saffron before using it to release flavor.