From salsa to hot sauce, hot chili peppers to wasabi, there are spicy foods in almost every cuisine.
However, regardless of the flavor profile, when it comes to spicy foods, people either seem to have a palate that craves or at least tolerates eating spicy food, or they are so averse to spicy foods that even foods labeled as “mild” taste overly spicy.
But is spicy food good for you?
Many people have heard that there are benefits of eating spicy foods. For example, spicy foods have been said to help boost your metabolic rate, but is this true? Are there benefits of eating spicy foods?
In this article, we will discuss if spicy foods are good for you and the potential health benefits of eating spicy foods.
We will cover:
- Is Spicy Food Good For You? 8 Health Benefits of Eating Spicy Foods
- How to Add Spicy Food to Your Diet
Let’s jump in!
Is Spicy Food Good For You? 8 Health Benefits of Eating Spicy Foods
If you’ve always shied away from eating spicy foods, and you need some extra motivation to go heavy-handed with the hot sauce or red pepper flakes, consider the benefits of spicy foods:
#1: Eating Spicy Foods May Increase Longevity
Perhaps the most compelling reason to eat spicy foods is that studies have demonstrated that eating spicy foods can reduce your risk of mortality due to cancer, ischemic heart disease, and respiratory diseases.
A massive study that involved following 199,293 men and 288,082 women aged 30 to 79 at baseline over the course of around 7.2 years found that the mortality rates decreased the more frequently participants ate spicy foods per week, peaking at 6 days per week. Those who ate spicy foods 6-7 days per week saw a 14% reduced risk of mortality.
The longevity benefits were stronger for those who also did not consume alcohol.
Similarly, The National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey, which followed 16,179 Americans for 6 years, found that the mortality rate among people who regularly consumed chili peppers was significantly lower than for those who did not eat chili peppers (21.6% vs. 33.6%), reflecting a 12% decreased risk of mortality.
#2: Eating Spicy Foods May Decrease Blood Pressure
Numerous studies have found that people who habitually consume spicy foods have a decreased risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease.
Although there seem to be numerous cardiovascular risk factors that may potentially be somewhat ameliorated by eating spicy foods, studies suggest that a benefit of eating spicy foods seems to be an association with lower blood pressure.
One study that followed 16,179 Americans for 6 years found the prevalence of hypertension was about 8% lower in those who regularly ate chili peppers compared to those who followed a bland diet.
#3: Eating Spicy Foods Can Boost Metabolism
Perhaps the most well-known touted benefit of eating spicy foods is the metabolic boost that can come from doing so.
Indeed, numerous studies have found that eating certain spices—even some of which are not spicy or hot—can cause a small increase in your metabolic rate and can help suppress appetite.
Examples include spices like cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, hot pepper flakes, and chilies.
Hot red pepper flakes have also specifically been shown to decrease appetite and increase metabolic rate.
Moreover, subsequent caloric intake was lower in those who ate hot red peppers versus those who did not, as was the preoccupation with food and the desire to consume fatty, salty, and sweet foods.
However, it’s important to note that the metabolic boost is mild, so it’s unlikely that you’ll crank through a ton of calories just by going heavy-handed with the spice.
In other words, the calories you’ll get from eating a huge plate of cheesy nachos with sour cream and guacamole will not be offset just because you put on a heavy coating of hot salsa or hot sauce.
Additionally, some evidence suggests that the magnitude of the appetite-suppressing effects and reduction in food cravings following the consumption of spicy food may decrease over time as you become accustomed to eating spicy food.
#4: Eating Spicy Food Is Good for Gut Bacteria
It might be somewhat counterintuitive–after all, super spicy food might “burn” or damage delicate bacteria in the gut–but studies suggest that eating spicy foods may actually be beneficial to the healthy bacteria residing in your gut microbiome.
Researchers suggest that the cardiometabolic benefits of diets high in capsaicin, the compound attributable to the spiciness in hot peppers, are likely attributable to improvements in the health of the gut bacteria rather than actual changes in blood lipid profiles.
It seems that a benefit of eating spicy foods is that it may help eradicate some of the potentially pathogenic bacteria in the gut while simultaneously supporting the beneficial bacteria, leading to a better balance and reducing gut inflammation.
#5: Eating Spicy Food May Decrease Cholesterol Levels
Although some results have not shown significant improvements in cholesterol or blood lipid levels due to eating spicy foods, other studies have found an inverse association between eating spicy foods and total cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and the ratio of LDL-to-HDL cholesterol, demonstrating an overall improvement in blood lipid profiles.
#6: Eating Spicy Food May Support Weight Loss
With the potential small metabolic boost from eating spicy foods aside, eating spicy food may also support weight loss efforts due to the ability of spicy food consumption to decrease overall portion size and increase satisfaction or fullness following the meal.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, the active compound in chili pepper, capsaicin, seems to act on the hypothalamus, which is the area of the brain that controls hunger and fullness.
For example, one study noted that 63% of participants expressed a greater sense of satisfaction after eating a spicy meal that included foods with capsaicin. A majority also reported a desire to eat less food when it was spicy, decreasing their voluntary portion sizes.
Taken together, if you naturally choose to eat smaller portions and feel even more satisfied and full afterward due to eating spicy foods, it’s certainly reasonable that boosting the spice level in your diet may help support weight loss.
Other studies have found that eating spicy foods can decrease abdominal obesity and that the consumption of capsaicinoids in spicy peppers increases energy expenditure by approximately 50 calories per day.
Although this isn’t all that significant, simply adding hot peppers to your diet and changing nothing else, this metabolic boost would result in a weight loss of over 5 pounds per year.
Furthermore, though not necessarily a hot spicy spice, turmeric, which contains a powerful antioxidant compound called curcumin, has been shown to inhibit fat cell proliferation.
#7: Eating Spicy Food Can Help Reduce Inflammation
Certain spices can potentially help reduce inflammation in the body.
For example, the curcumin in turmeric has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body. It is often used to treat arthritis and joint pain.
Capsaicin, the compound in spicy peppers, has also been shown to confer powerful anti-inflammatory effects on par with some anti-inflammatory medications. This may be due to the ability of the spice to inhibit the production of certain inflammatory cytokines.
#8: Eating Spicy Food May Help Reduce the Risk of Cancer
Studies have suggested that the active component in spicy chili peppers, capsaicin, may help slow the growth of tumors and selectively destroy cancer cells without simultaneously harming healthy cells.
How to Add Spicy Food to Your Diet
According to the Cleveland Clinic, you don’t have to eat a ton of spicy food, nor the hottest chili peppers in the world, to reap the benefits of spicy foods.
Rather, try to incorporate some hot chili peppers and low-sodium hot salsa, wasabi paste, or hot sauce into your meals.
Be mindful of the fact that many spicy sauces are quite salty to try and offset the magnitude of the spice level. Look at the nutrition facts and ingredients before going heavy-handed with packaged spicy seasonings and sauces.
Additionally, build up your spice level slowly.
If you are currently following a mild diet, eating too much spicy food all of a sudden can cause stomach discomfort, diarrhea, mouth burn, and heartburn.
If you already have GERD or heartburn, eating spicy food might be contraindicated, so you should speak to your doctor or a nutritionist before making a large shift in your diet towards spicier foods.
If you have a very low tolerance to spicy foods, don’t force yourself into the world of the chili peppers that break records on the Scoville scale (a measure of the spiciness or pungency of hot peppers).
Some of the same benefits of spicy foods can be achieved by using other spices, such as cumin, turmeric, and black pepper.
Looking for other foods that can boost your well-being? What about lemon water, nettle tea, or palm oil? Do these foods have benefits, or do they have negative effects on your health?
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