Benefits of Spicy Food

Going Hot: The Benefits of Spicy Food for Your Body & Mind

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Benefits of Spicy Food

Spicy food has grown massively in popularity over the past decade. 62% of people now say they enjoy spicy food and you’d be hard-pressed to find a restaurant that doesn’t have chili peppers in some shape or form on their menu.

There are so many ways to work that hot-kick into your diet; cayenne, jalapeño, habanero, chili – there are a million different options. Luckily, these ingredients don’t just add flavor and spice to your recipes, they can also have a surprisingly positive effect on your health.

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Spicy foods with benefits

Hot Peppers

Hot peppers, such as jalapeños, contain large amounts of capsaicin.

Capsaicin is the molecule within hot peppers that give them their spicy heat. The compound acts via adrenaline receptors to increase heat quickly. Capsaicin has been shown to increase your metabolic rate and increase calorie burn. This burns excess body fat and assists in weight loss. The molecule will also fight inflammation and research shows that it possesses anti-cancer properties[1].

Turmeric

Turmeric is another commonly used spice that is often the ingredient responsible for coloring you curry powders and mustards. Turmeric has gained quite a reputation in recent times for being incredibly beneficial for your health[2].

The active ingredient in turmeric is called curcumin. Curcumin is well-known for its anti-inflammatory effects, easing inflammation and pain and reducing the blood concentration of some of the main inflammatory markers.

Curcumin also has the ability to significantly improve you anti-oxidant enzyme profile and even has positive benefits for those suffering from depression and/or anxiety.

The problem with curcumin is that it is not easily absorbed in our gastrointestinal tract, but this can be overcome relatively easily by paring curcumin with an absorption-enhancer. Black pepper is an excellent option for this job and it isn’t going to ruin the flavor of your dinner[3].

The Benefits of Spicy Foods

1. Weight loss [4]

Due to the thermogenic effects of capsaicin from peppers, eating spicy food has the ability to assist in weight loss.

Ingesting capsaicin causes the body to turn an increased amount of energy into heat energy. This heat burns more excess calories and, therefore, can help you burn excess fat stores.

A study carried out by Purdue University observed that participants who ate spicy food burned more calories than the control group. The group who ate spicy foods also expressed that they felt less hungry and had fewer cravings for sweet, salty or high-fat foods [5].

2. CV health improved

The impact of spicy food on cardiovascular health was first noticed through population studies that noted the considerably reduced numbers of individuals who experienced heart attacks and strokes in populations and cultures where spicy food was regularly eaten.

After researching this topic, scientists believe that capsaicin’s ability to reduce chronic inflammation is the likely reason for the population trends seen [6]. Chronic inflammation is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, alongside high cholesterol. Luckily for us, capsaicin has also been shown to prevent accumulation of cholesterol in your body by increasing the molecules breakdown rate. LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and the damage it does to your body is decreased when you add spice to your diet [7,8].

Additionally, it is also possible that capsaicin is able to block a specific gene that is partly responsible for narrowing the arteries.

3. Cancer risk decreased

Both capsaicin and curcumin in turmeric can play a part in decreasing cancer risk[9,10].

The American Association for Cancer Research states that capsaicin is able to kill off some cancer cells – particularly those present in leukemia.

Studies have shown turmeric has the ability to hinder the growth rate of cancerous tumors.

4. Increased life span

Spicy food can boost your longevity!

While there are countless factors that contribute to how long you will live, spice might actually be able to add some time to your lifespan. Research carried out by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences showed that of 50,000 participants studied over 5 years, the individuals who consumed spicy foods six to seven times per week had a 14% lower chance of early mortality[11].

5. Blood pressure [12]

The heat from pepper can cause blood vessels to dilate, boosting the ease and volume of blood throughout the body.

Hot peppers also contain both vitamin A and C, which will help to increase the strength of your heart's muscular walls, and have many other beneficial impacts nutritionally.

6. Memory and mood [13]

The University of California discovered that curcumin is able to improve both mood and memory function.

Black pepper can also target bloating – something that can always put a dampener on your day. A component in black pepper acts as a diuretic, helping relieve you of a swollen tummy and uncomfortable cramps.

7. Congestion relief

It’s a common situation to experience a runny nose after you’ve eaten a spicy meal. The capsaicin in peppers is very similar to the main active chemical component that is found in decongestant medicines.

8. Stress relief

Spicy foods can improve your mood due to its impact on your hormone levels. When you eat something spicy, your body increases the production of serotonin and other hormones that improve mood. This process takes place in an effort to block pain that is experienced due to the fiery heat of your food.

A boost in serotonin levels can relieve stress and have a positive impact on those suffering from depression or anxiety.

9. Diabetes [14]

Regular consumption of spice can assist in gaining better blood control for those affected by diabetes (type 1 or type 2).

Eating hot chilies on a regular basis reduces your body’s insulin requirements over time, therefore reducing the need for medication to control high blood sugar.

Spicy meals are also an excellent choice for individuals who have found themselves classed as ‘borderline diabetics’. Reducing the demand on your body’s insulin production before things get worse is a great way to derail the progression of the condition.

10. Pain pause

Capsaicin in chilies is able to reduce inflammation and pain experienced by desensitizing your skins sensory receptors. The compound does this by reducing the quantities of substance P available within your body. Substance P is a neuropeptide found in nerve cells that are responsible for carrying pain signals to the brain.

Due to this property, capsaicin can often be found listed as one of the main ingredients in pain-relieving creams.

How much do you need to eat to reap the benefits of spicy food?

Doctors and other health and medical professional have recommended you get some spice into your diet between 2 and 4 times per week.

But not all spice is created equal!

Yes, you’ve eaten your portion of capsaicin, but what else was on your fork? Spicy food is good for you but is by no means an excuse to cram in an extra couple of Chinese, Indian or Thai takeaways each week. Instead, focus on cooking great, whole foods from scratch and learning how to incorporate spice into your diet in a healthy manner.

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Finally…

As you’ve read, spice does much more than just add a little bit extra to your meals, it’s excellent for your health too.

If you’re not that much of a spicy food fan, you can still get your hands on these benefits. Your food doesn’t have to be crazy hot, try adding some spices with a more tolerable zing to your favorite dishes.

Ginger is an excellent example of such a spice. Try adding sliced ginger to your cup of tea or sprinkle some on your morning oatmeal. Cumin and coriander are also excellent choices and are fantastic when added to 4-bean chili or used to coat shrimp. A small dash of red pepper flakes can also go a very long way!

Bibliography

[1] Cronin, Joseph R. “The Chili Pepper's Pungent Principle: Capsaicin Delivers Diverse Health Benefits.” Alternative & Complementary Therapies 8.2 (2002): 110-113.
[2] Lal, Jaggi. “Turmeric, curcumin and our life: a review.” Bull Environ Pharmacol Life Sci 1.7 (2012): 11-17.
[3] Anand, Preetha, et al. “Bioavailability of curcumin: problems and promises.” Molecular Pharmaceutics 4.6 (2007): 807-818.
[4] Westerterp-Plantenga, M. S., A. Smeets, and M. P. G. Lejeune. “Sensory and gastrointestinal satiety effects of capsaicin on food intake.” International journal of obesity 29.6 (2005): 682.
[5] Ludy, Mary-Jon, and Richard D. Mattes. “The effects of hedonically acceptable red pepper doses on thermogenesis and appetite.” Physiology & behavior 102.3-4 (2011): 251-258.
[6] Colpaert, F. C., J. Donnerer, and F. Lembeck. “Effects of capsaicin on inflammation and on the substance P content of nervous tissues in rats with adjuvant arthritis.” Life sciences32.16 (1983): 1827-1834.
[7] Manjunatha, Hanumanthappa, and Krishnapura Srinivasan. “Protective effect of dietary curcumin and capsaicin on induced oxidation of low‐density lipoprotein, iron‐induced hepatotoxicity and carrageenan‐induced inflammation in experimental rats.” The FEBS journal 273.19 (2006): 4528-4537.
[8] Manjunatha, H., and K. Srinivasan. “Hypolipidemic and antioxidant effects of dietary curcumin and capsaicin in induced hypercholesterolemic rats.” Lipids 42.12 (2007).
[9] Aggarwal, Bharat B., Anushree Kumar, and Alok C. Bharti. “Anticancer potential of curcumin: preclinical and clinical studies.” Anticancer research 23.1/A (2003): 363-398.
[10] HSIEH, CHANG-YAO. “Phase I clinical trial of curcumin, a chemopreventive agent, in patients with high-risk or pre-malignant lesions.” Anticancer research 21 (2001): 2895-2900.
[11] Lv, Jun, et al. “Consumption of spicy foods and total and cause-specific mortality: population based cohort study.” Bmj351 (2015): h3942.
[12] Vaishnava, Prashant, and Donna H. Wang. “Capsaicin sensitive-sensory nerves and blood pressure regulation.” Current Medicinal Chemistry-Cardiovascular & Hematological Agents 1.2 (2003): 177-188.
[13] Jantsch, H. H. F., et al. “Explicit episodic memory for sensory-discriminative components of capsaicin-induced pain: immediate and delayed ratings.” Pain 143.1-2 (2009): 97-105.
[14] Deng, Yaxiong, et al. “Some like it hot: the emerging role of spicy food (capsaicin) in autoimmune diseases.” Autoimmunity reviews 15.5 (2016): 451-456.


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About the Author Emily Robinson

Emily has spent the last 8 years comparing, reviewing and analyzing ingredients in the supplements industry. She has worked extensively with dieticians, nutritionists and personal trainers to separate fact from fiction and help people achieve their fitness goals. In her free time she works and enjoys the outdoors with her husband and 2 children.

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