The Spice Girls were onto something when they released their hit song Spice Up Your Life in the 90s. Turns out, a wealth of research supports the idea that adding spice to your food can offer some major health benefits.
Although theres a slew of unexpected perks to giving your food a kick, capsaicin is the ingredient to keep in mind. The compound is found in jalapeños, habaneros, cayenne and most other chili peppers, and its the underlying reason spicy foods can help you lose weight and live a longer, healthier life.
Here are 5 reasons to consider spicing up your food:
1. Youll lose more weight.
Capsaicin is a thermogenic substance, meaning it causes the body temperature to rise, temporarily boosting metabolism and revving its ability to burn calories. Capsaicin may also decrease appetite and help curb cravings. A 2005 study in the International Journal of Obesity found that exposure to capsaicin increased participants satiety, and reduced their calorie and fat intake.
Consider adding tabasco sauce to your eggs at breakfast to give your metabolism an early-morning boost.
2. Your heart will thank you.
Heart disease remains the leading cause of death among men and women in America, but spicing up your food may help reduce your risk of developing the ailment. Studies suggest capsaicin may lower LDL, or bad, cholesterol, which accumulates on artery walls and constricts blood flow to the heart. Spicy food can help dilate blood vessels, promoting circulation and helping to manage your blood sugar, research presented during a 2012 American Chemical Society meeting suggests.
Unfortunately, eating spicy food wont totally undo a bad diet. For optimal heart health, skip greasy foods like hot wings in lieu of adding peppers or hot spices to your favorite dish with lean protein like turkey or chicken.
3. You may reduce your cancer risk.
You probably already know maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly can reduce your cancer risk, but consider adding a kick to your dish to further lower your chances. A 2006 study in the journal Cancer suggests capsaicin may inhibit the spread of prostate cancer cells. Spicy foods also are known to boost immunity. Studies suggest they can act as a decongestant, protecting against irritants and pollutants, like dust and smoke.
4. Youll eat more mindfully.
Research suggests people who eat spicy foods are often more satiated than those who dont, which can reduce the chances of overeating. That may be because spiciness in food naturally slows the eating process, giving the brain more time to realize the body is full. The end result: fewer calories consumed.
If theres a food you tend to eat mindlessly, try turning up the heat with a squirt of Sriracha sauce to slow you down.
5. You may live longer.
If the aforementioned perks werent persuasive enough, consider this suggested benefit: Eating spicy foods may help lengthen your life. A Harvard University study suggested that people who ate spicy food every day saw a 14 percent lower risk of death compared to people who ate spicy food only once a week or less. Consider sprinkling dried chili flakes on whole-wheat pasta, vegetables or soups to add a kick of flavor and potentially lengthen your life.
Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a Registered Dietitian in New York City and the author of two bestselling diet books: The F-Factor Diet and The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear with Fiber.