Black seed oil is basically the new apple cider vinegar, people.
Lately, health and fitness bloggers have been raving about the stuff, touting its effectiveness in helping you shed pounds.
Take this excerpt from the blog Paleohacks, for example, which praises black seed oil as a weight-loss remedy:
Another blog, Balance Me Beautiful, refers to black seed oil as “one of the most popular and most effective natural solutions for weight loss.”
So yeah…what is black seed oil? Does it really boast any true weight-loss benefits or is it, like pretty much every other “weight-loss solution” out there, a load of you-know-what?
First things first: What the heck is black seed oil?
Black seed oil, sometimes referred to as black caraway or black cumin, is made from the fruit seeds of the flowering nigella sativa plant, which is part of the ranunculales family (think: buttercup flowers).
Even though some of the variations on the name sound familiar, black seed oil isn’t related to the regular ground cumin or caraway seeds you might have lurking in the back of your spice cabinet.
You can cook with the seeds or oil, but be warned that they will affect the taste of your food. The seeds have a slightly bitter onion flavor, according to Smithsonian magazine, and the oil is spicy/peppery. (There are, however, an alarming number of Google searches related to the question, “Why does my black seed oil taste like motor oil?” so you’ll have to judge for yourself.)
You can also buy black seed oil as a soft gel or liquid supplement, and—like the seeds and oil—those can be found at pretty much any health food or vitamin store, or online at Amazon.
What about the claims that black seed oil can help with weight loss? Are they legit?
Black seed oil’s three claims to weight-loss fame include that it “melts away” belly fat, boosts your metabolism, and curbs your appetite—all of which are unsubstantiated, says Brigitte Zeitlin, R.D., owner of BZ Nutrition. No one thing can do any of that stuff, she adds.
The studies out there aren’t terribly convincing, either. One 2014 study published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine, did show better weight loss results with a combination of oil supplementation and aerobic exercise, but the sample size was super small (only 20 people) and was more focused on “lipid parameters,” or reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, than actual weight loss.
Black seed oil may, however, help you maintain a healthy weight, according to Zeitlin. “Black seed oil has antioxidant properties,” she says. And, because antioxidant-rich foods are often plant-based and unprocessed, focusing on those foods will add more fiber, vitamins, and minerals into your diet, which can play a role in healthy weight maintenance, adds Zeitlin.
Zeitlin says that black seed oil may also improve your overall digestive health and prevent bloating, which might make you feel skinnier. “Black seed oil can help with GI motility, and moving your bowels more frequently will help flush out excess waste that may be backed up and causing belly bloat,” she says.
Okay, but I still want to try black seed oil.
Most brands of black seed oil supplements will instruct you to take the equivalent of one teaspoon daily, but since supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, there’s no guaranteed safe amount. “While there is some research to show healthful benefits, the research is limited and more is needed to determine appropriate doses,” says Zeitlin.
But, she adds, you should be able to incorporate one to two servings (one serving equals two tablespoons) of the seeds or oil into your diet without side effects—though you should always check with your doctor first if you’re on any medication (that advice applies to all supplements). Zeitlin recommends adding the seeds to stir-fries, scrambled eggs, or salads, or cooking with the oil in soups or curries, rather than, you know, taking a shot of the oil alone.
The bottom line: Black seed oil is not a magic pill for weight loss. It can, however, have moderate health benefits when paired with a balanced diet, says Zeitlin.
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