7 Surprising Health Benefits of Spicy Foods

Some like it hot! If you're one of those adventurous eaters who prefers a little flame with your food, you're in good company: According to Technomic’s 2013 Flavor Consumer Trend Report, 54 percent of respondents had a hankering for spicy dishes (60 percent among 18- to 24-year-olds), and the trend is only getting hotter. Spicy dishes are gaining more and more spots on restaurant menus, from Chipotle's barbacoa burrito to Subway's Fiery Footlong Collection.
 
The benefits of heating up your cuisine may go beyond just pleasing your taste buds. New research suggests that eating spicy foods could actually be good for your health. Read on for some reasons to turn up the heat at your next meal.
 
1. Pain Relief
 
Although more research is needed, some evidence suggests that cayenne pepper could double as a pain-relieving agent. "Cayenne pepper contains capsaicin, a compound found to help relieve pain," explains registered dietitian Lisa Andrews. "Typically used in topical creams, capsaicin reduces Substance P, a chemical that sends pain messages to your brain, so less pain is felt." (She also points out that capsaicin in cayenne may help treat psoriasis by alleviating symptoms of itching and pain, but capsaicin should not be applied to an open cut or wound.)
 
2. A Longer Life
 
Spices could add more than just flavor to your life—they may also add years. A 2015 study analyzed the eating habits and longevity of more than 500,000 Chinese people. Participants who consumed spicy foods six or seven times a day—primarily fresh and dried chili peppers—had a 14 percent lower mortality rate than those who ate bland dishes. (Those who ate spicy foods just once a week saw a 10 percent dip in death risk.) Again, capsaicin—the active compound is found in chili peppers—gets the credit.
 
3. Reduced Cancer Risk
 
A study conducted by the University of Texas and published in Experimental Biology and Medicine analyzed the impact of 41 common spices on cancer patients. The nutraceuticals in spicy foods were found to slow or halt the growth of tumor cells. Although more research is needed, this suggests that plant-based spices could serve as a healthier, all-natural alternative to pharmaceutical drugs.
 
4. Weight Loss

That guy who's breaking a sweat eating his extra-hot wings could be onto something. Studies have found that by raising the body's temperature, spicy foods—especially those containing capsaicin, ginger and black pepper—could temporarily boost metabolism by 8 to 10 percent. This not seem like a huge amount, but every little bit helps.
 
In another study by Purdue University, people who added hot pepper to their foods burned more calories than those who ate non-spicy dishes. And among those who don't regularly eat spicy foods, the added red pepper seemed to suppress their appetites and decrease their desire for fatty, sweet and salty foods.   
 
In addition to revving the body's metabolic engine, spicy foods could also help suppress appetite. A Canadian study found that men who ate an appetizer with hot sauce ended up eating 200 fewer total calories during the main course than those who had non-spicy appetizers. In addition to the capsaicin content, the hot foods could also cause you to eat slower, so you'll register fullness quicker and be less likely to overeat.


 
5. Clear Sinuses
 
Ever noticed that your nose starts to run when you're eating something super spicy? Capsaicin-containing peppers, such as cayenne, tabasco and jalapeños, may reduce nasal congestion, sinus pressure and sinus pain. In a University of Cincinnati study, a group of 44 people suffering from non-allergic rhinitis were given either a nose spray containing capsaicin or a placebo. The spray with capsaicin relieved symptoms faster, participants reported.
 
6. A Healthier Heart
 
Can you reduce your risk of heart disease by eating chili peppers? Science says yes. In 2011, a study by the American Chemical Society revealed the heart-healthy benefits of chili peppers. The capsaicin and other elements found in spicy foods help to reduce dangerous cholesterol and improve circulation, both of which prevent heart disease.
 
That doesn't mean you should start binging on chili peppers. The study's author, Zhen-Yu Chen, Ph.D., pointed out that moderation is key. "We concluded that capsaicinoids were beneficial in improving a range of factors related to heart and blood vessel health," said Chen. "But we certainly do not recommend that people start consuming chilies to an excess. A good diet is a matter of balance. Remember, chilies are no substitute for the prescription medications proven to be beneficial. They may be a nice supplement, however, for people who find the hot flavor pleasant."
 
7. Improved Gastric Health
 
Ever heard the warning that spicy foods can wreak havoc on the stomach and even cause ulcers? Science disproves that myth. To the contrary, studies have shown that capsaicin helps to prevent and heal ulcers by inhibiting acid production and promoting healthy gastric blood flow.   
 
Are you a spicy foods lover? Have you noticed any benefits from your appetite for heat?
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Member Comments

And it can help you sweat! So it's recommended that people eat spicy food when it's really hot, so their natural "air conditioning" is turned on. But it's always good, unless you over do it. Over doing it can cause acid reflux, no joke. Report
I love spicy food. Research shows that certain cultures live longer depending on their diets. Report
There are so many healthy hot sauces to add flavor and heat. If you don't like one, try another. They are not created equal. Some are very mild while others will leave a burn that will linger. ?? Report
Such wonderful benefits. But spicy foods give me inflammation especially on the face and hands. Report
What is a weed? A plant whose virtues
have never been discovered.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson Report
ANAH_ACE
I love spicy foods! Yay!! Report
I am not overly fond of spicy foods. Report
That's interesting! Report
Who knew? Thanks! Report
I love spicey food! Report
When I was younger, I couldn't tolerate any kind of spiciness. As I've gotten older though, I'm finding that not only do I tolerate it better, I'm actually adding it to dishes that I make! I have Siracha, Tabasco, and Crystal hot sauces in my pantry as well as cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, and Tony Chacere's seasoning, and I use them!! Report
I am a proponent of spicy everything… Even like to add a tad bit of Tabasco to ketchup every now and again.
???????? Report
We grow peppers in our garden and use them to make hot pepper jam and pickeled peppers. I also dry the cayenne and use it to spice up foods in the winter. Report
Spicy is my favorite flavor! Report
Interesting article to consider! Report


 

About The Author

Melissa Rudy
Melissa Rudy
A lifelong Cincinnatian, Melissa earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from University of Cincinnati before breaking into online writing in 2000. As a Digital Journalist for SparkPeople, she enjoys helping others meet their wellness goals by writing about all aspects of healthy living. An avid runner and group fitness addict, Melissa lives in Loveland with her guitarist husband and three feisty daughters.
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