Do you place orders for your food to be cooked extra spicy at restaurants or for takeout? Do you love chomping down on some crunchy chili peppers when you need a snack? Do you love that “mouth-on-fire” sensation when you’re eating Chinese or Thai or Indian food?
Your friends may make fun of you but the joke’s on them! Eating hot and spicy food is associated with a host of health benefits. And of course, adding spices to your home-cooked meals can help make even the blandest of dishes more palatable.
So, let’s take a look at what makes spicy food so good (think, health benefits!) for you and some ways in which you can incorporate them into your diet.
1. Live Longer
Although eating hot and spicy food can sometimes cause you so much pain that you may beg for a merciful death, ironically, it has been linked to a longer lifespan. A longitudinal study conducted by Harvard researchers in 2015 found that those who ate spicy food on a regular basis had a 14% higher likelihood of living longer compared to people who ate spicy food less than once every week.1
Not only are you likely to live longer if your diet includes spicy food, you are also less likely to die from specific diseases like cancer and heart disease, especially if you don’t drink alcohol, the study revealed. Harvard researchers attribute this to the fact that hot peppers contain capsaicin and other bio-active properties that are known to have antioxidant, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory properties. There is not enough evidence yet to establish a direct causal relationship between consuming spicy food and increased longevity, but there is definitely a correlation.
A 2017 study corroborated these findings, concluding that participants who consumed hot red chili peppers were 13% less likely to die. The researchers concluded, therefore, that “hot red chili peppers may be a beneficial component of the diet.”2
2. Boost Your Immune System
Hot chili peppers are rich in vitamin C, B-vitamins, pro-A vitamin, and antioxidants.3 Since vitamin C helps bolster the immune system, a diet rich in hot peppers can help boost your overall immune health and protect against several minor and major illnesses.
3. Say Hello To Gorgeous Skin
Spices are laden with anti-microbial properties which stave off bacterial and fungal infections. Spices such as garlic, cumin, lemon grass, cardamom, ginger, cloves, and bay leaf can, therefore, help you attain glowing skin, with fewer breakouts and skin infections. As an added bonus, the vitamin content of hot peppers helps combat free radicals that cause premature aging.4
4. Shed Those Extra Pounds
Capsaicin is known to have a thermogenic effect, meaning it increases your body heat, which in turn triggers your metabolism and helps you lose extra calories immediately after a meal and also in the long run.
What’s more, a study conducted at Purdue University found that consuming red peppers in moderate quantities can reduce feelings of hunger, make you feel full, curb your appetite, and burn more calories overall.5 This not only makes it easier for you to eat less but also shed those excess pounds faster!
5. Stave Off Cancer
According to the American Association for Cancer Research, capsaicin has specific properties that can cause prostate cancer cells to commit suicide – no joke! Capsaicin was also found to lower cancer cell production of PSA, a protein produced by prostate tumors, the presence of which is used to diagnose prostate cancer.6
In addition, a study conducted by the American Chemical Society found that capsaicin was particularly effective in preventing lung cancer in mice when combined with chemical compounds found in ginger.7
Researchers at UC San Diego’s School of Medicine have also found that capsaicin can reduce the risk of colorectal tumors. Capsaicin was found to activate a receptor called TRPV1 inside intestinal cells which then acts as a tumor suppressor in the intestines.8
6. Guard Against Heart Disease
Capsaicin has been proven to help encourage the breakdown of bad cholesterol in the body, thereby lowering the overall accumulation of cholesterol, according to the American Chemical Society.9 In addition, capsaicin was found to block the action of a particular gene that causes arteries to contract and restrict the flow of blood. This blocking action enabled more blood to flow to the heart and other organs.
Capsaicin is, therefore, “beneficial in improving a range of factors related to heart and blood vessel health,” said Zhen-Yu Chen, a professor of food and nutritional science at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
7. Lower Your Blood Pressure
Researchers have found evidence suggesting that capsaicin can help reduce high blood pressure by encouraging blood vessels to relax by activating TRPV1 receptors inside blood vessels. In turn, this leads to the production of nitric oxide which guards blood vessels against inflammation.10
Consuming spicy food can help lower blood pressure in another less direct way. Capsaicin stimulates your taste buds in a way that makes you refrain from adding extra salt to your food. This can also help keep your blood pressure in check.
8. Get Pain Relief
Capsaicin contained in hot peppers has potent pain-relieving properties.11 Physicians commonly recommend capsaicin in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, pain from nerve damage, lower back pain, and shingles. Capsaicin is also used to relieve inflammation and itching associated with psoriasis. If you suffer from any of these conditions, check with your healthcare provider to see if you should try capsaicin ointment.
9. Lower Stress Levels
Consuming spicy foods stimulates the production of your body’s feel-good hormones, endorphins and dopamine, which leads to feelings of wellbeing and helps alleviate stress.12
Consume Spicy Food In Moderation
Like with all other things pertaining to your diet, moderation is key. To reap the health benefits associated with consuming hot and spicy food, it is recommended that you add hot peppers of your choice plus a dash of turmeric and ginger to your meals about 3 times a week.13
If you don’t like or can’t tolerate spicy food, ask your physician if capsaicin supplements can be good for you.
When Should You Avoid Spicy Food?
Even though eating hot and spicy food is an extremely satisfying experience for many and also brings numerous health benefits, it may not be suitable or safe for everyone.14
- Patients with gastrointestinal diseases like ulcers, chronic heartburn, and bowel disorders are usually advised to avoid spicy foods.
- If you have an allergy to kiwi, bananas, avocado, and chestnuts, you could also be allergic to capsaicin. So check with your medical provider first before adding a dash of hot peppers to your dishes.
- If pregnant, it is best to avoid hot pepper because capsaicin does pass into breast milk.
- You should also not consume capsaicin (without discussing it first with your doctor) if you’re being treated with ACE inhibitors, blood-thinners, diabetes medication, or aspirin.15
How To Start Eating Spicy Food
If you’ve been too scared or nervous to eat hot and spicy food, there’s good news! You can start easy and then gradually build up your spicy food tolerance.
Peppers are highly versatile and go well with almost any carbs and proteins you can think of. They are good in soups, salads, stir-fries, and pasta, and pair well with seafood, chicken, and poultry. Start by adding relatively milder hot peppers such as bell peppers, pimento peppers, and poblano peppers to your meals wherever appropriate. You can also start by adding a dash of hot sauce to your tacos and burritos, burgers, and sandwiches. Once you’ve mastered these, you can graduate to hotter peppers like jalapenos and serrano peppers.
Tip: Always keep coolants handy. Cold milk (dairy, soy, almond etc.) and sour cream are the most effective ally in your effort to conquer spicy food.
Caution: Hottest peppers in the world like habaneros, ghost peppers, Carolina Reaper, and Trinidad Scorpion peppers are best not used on a daily basis.
|↑1||Frequent spicy food consumption linked with longer life. Harvard University.|
|↑2||Chopan M, Littenberg B (2017) The Association of Hot Red Chili Pepper Consumption and Mortality: A Large Population-Based Cohort Study. PLoS ONE 12(1): e0169876. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0169876.|
|↑3||Peppers. The Ohio State University.|
|↑4||Food bacteria-spice survey shows why some cultures like it hot. Cornell University.|
|↑5||Study: Reasonable quantities of red pepper may help curb appetite. Purdue University.|
|↑6||Pepper Component Hot Enough To Trigger Suicide In Prostate Cancer Cells. Cedars-Sinai.|
|↑7||Ginger and chili peppers could work together to lower cancer risk. American Chemical Society.|
|↑8||Pepper and Halt: Spicy Chemical May Inhibit Gut Tumors. University of California San Diego.|
|↑9||Hot pepper compound could help hearts. American Chemical Society.|
|↑10||Yang, Dachun, Zhidan Luo, Shuangtao Ma, Wing Tak Wong, Liqun Ma, Jian Zhong, Hongbo He et al. “Activation of TRPV1 by dietary capsaicin improves endothelium-dependent vasorelaxation and prevents hypertension.” Cell metabolism 12, no. 2 (2010): 130-141.|
|↑11, ↑15||Cayenne. University of Maryland Medical Center.|
|↑12||THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON CAPSAICIN. Northwestern University.|
|↑13||TURN UP THE HEAT: 5 HEALTH BENEFITS OF EATING SPICY FOOD. St. Joseph’s Health.|
|↑14||EATING SPICY FOOD: WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS?. The New York Times.|