Have you heard of fenugreek? Widely used in Indian cuisine, this aromatic herb offers a range of health benefits.
Dating back to ancient times, fenugreek has a long history in kitchens and medicine cabinets around the world. From balancing blood sugar to beating back bad cholesterol, this savoury spice adds a boost to your dishes and to your health. Discover the amazing health benefits of fenugreek.
A storied spice
One of the oldest medicinal plants documented in written history, fenugreek has played a starring role in traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, and the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Rome. It has many names, including Greek Hay, Methi, and Bird’s Foot, and even more applications.
Fenugreek’s strong, spicy aroma and bittersweet taste is recognizable in the curries, dals, and stews of Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines. Many parts of this plant can be used to build the flavourful foundation of these exotic dishes. The seeds, whole and powdered, have a smell reminiscent of caramel or maple syrup and a complicated bitterness when heated. The leaves, fresh and dried, have a subtle heat that works well in a variety of recipes.
Fenugreek and modern maladies
Research is finding scientific backing to what ancient and traditional healers have known all along—in addition to tasting great, fenugreek has a number of therapeutic properties.
Help manage diabetes
Diabetes rates almost doubled in Canada from 2000 to 2010. Diabetes is a lifelong condition with complications that reduce quality of life and can even prove fatal. Management is essential. Fenugreek is a widely used herb for blood sugar regulation in those with diabetes.
The seeds are rich in soluble fibre, which helps to slow the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates. In one study, the consumption of just 12.5 g of fenugreek had a significant effect on post-meal blood sugar levels in subjects with type 2 diabetes.
The seed is also the only known source of the amino acid 4-hydroxyisoleucine, which promotes insulin sensitivity and the release of insulin. In animal studies, 4-hydroxyisoleucine lowered elevated glucose levels in diabetic subjects.
A number of studies have shown the benefits of orally ingested fenugreek on cholesterol levels. In one study, participants with type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol took 50 g of fenugreek seed powder a day for three and six weeks. The results showed a reduction in total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol compared to the placebo group.
Promising research is pointing to a potential key role for fenugreek in the prevention and treatment of cancer. Preliminary in vitro lab studies have shown fenugreek extract has the ability to kill some types of cancer cells.
Obesity is a rising problem in Canada. One in four adults is obese, putting them at an increased risk of many serious health conditions. A lack of proper hunger and satiety signalling can be a key factor that leads to weight gain and interferes with efforts to achieve or maintain a healthy weight.
A recent study has shown that adding fenugreek to meals can help to satisfy hunger faster. Overweight and obese participants added 5.5 g of fenugreek seed to a carbohydrate meal. There was a significant increase in satiety compared to the placebo group.
Combat body fat
Fenugreek, when combined with a resistance training program, may help accelerate fat loss. One study divided participants into two groups, both of which participated in a training program four days a week for eight weeks. The group that took a daily supplement of 500 mg of fenugreek burned more fat and had a greater increase in lean body mass. A second study also showed decreases in body fat when subjects supplemented with 600 mg of fenugreek daily and followed a similar training program.
Improve gut health
Most Canadians are likely not getting the adequate daily intake of fibre. Among its many roles in the body, fibre helps in the elimination of waste and toxins. It does this both by binding to toxins for removal and by feeding our gut flora. Fenugreek is full of fibre, with 100 percent of the adequate daily intake for women in just 100 g of seeds.
Getting more fenugreek
Naturopathic doctor Tammy Rampone shares different ways to access the many therapeutic benefits of fenugreek. For higher doses, she warns against adding the powder directly to recipes, as it may alter the taste. Instead, she suggests taking encapsulated seed powder. For smaller doses of up to 25 g per day, Rampone recommends eating 1 Tbsp (15 mL) at a time, mixed into yogurt.
Are there any dangers to supplementation?
While there are no reports on significant harmful effects of taking therapeutic doses of fenugreek, Rampone says there can be some side effects. Quickly increasing fenugreek intake can cause gastrointestinal discomfort, such as flatulence and diarrhea. Rampone suggests that the dosage be gradually increased to reduce digestive upset.
Given the high fibre content in fenugreek, Rampone says it should not be taken at the same time as medications. She also cautions that medicinal doses should not be used during pregnancy or by people with legume and peanut allergies.
Fenugreek has a wealth of benefits. As more scientific research is done, more therapeutic properties will undoubtedly be verified, and new ones may even be uncovered. a
How to add fenugreek to your diet
Fenugreek’s savoury flavour makes it a great addition to daily dishes. When including fenugreek as a medicinal food, choose organic where possible, as freshness and quality are essential.
- Sprouted seeds make a delicious, antioxidant-rich topping for salads and sandwiches.
- Toast seeds lightly to enhance their nutty flavour and sprinkle them on whole grains and other dishes.
- Steep slightly crushed seeds and dried leaves for a mildly bitter tea that’s soothing to the digestive tract.
- Add fresh leaves to salads and other dishes as you would leafy green vegetables.
- Use the aromatic seeds and leaves to add a slightly sweet and spicy flavour to curries and stews.
Types of fenugreek supplements
Fenugreek is available as encapsulated seed powder in varying amounts, loose powder, chewable tablets or gummies, or in tincture form at your local health food store. Consult a health care practitioner to find the right dosage and to ensure no interactions with any medication, particularly if you are diabetic.