Turn up the heat and your health with spicy foods

spicey foods

For those who embrace the heat of having their mouth burn and forehead sweat, you obviously love spicy foods and likely the hotter the better. But if you’re taste buds prefer milder, less intense flavors, you may consider adding in spicy foods offering a surprisingly good effect on your health.

Spicy foods, various hot peppers such as cayenne, jalapeno, habanero, chili, can liven up the blandest of recipes thanks to a compound called capsaicin.  It’s capsaicin that results in a burning sensation after eating these foods. While many of us are unable to withstand this fiery feeling, there’s evidence these foods with a kick can improve health in many ways.  Here’s a look at what they may offer:

  • Aids in weight loss

Spicy foods have been shown to help with increasing metabolism aiding in weight loss. The reason goes back to capsaicin found in chili peppers that boosts the body’s ability to break down fat and burn more energy. These hot peppers increase body heat which can boost metabolism up to five percent and increase fat burning up to 16 percent. Calories are being burned more quickly and may also help curb food cravings, lowering calorie intake.

  • Improves heart health

Your heart health could get a significant boost by simply adding more chili peppers to your diet. That’s news from a study which found people who eat chili peppers regularly have a 13% lower risk of dying of a heart attack or stroke. That’s because capsaicin causes blood vessels to dilate which can help lower blood pressure. Thus, this same effect may help reduce the risk of blood clots and may even help lower cholesterol by preventing it from accumulating in the arteries.

  • Good for the microbiome

Wait a minute, how can spicy foods be good for someone with a sensitive stomach? Our gut microbiome – microorganisms living in our intestines – is incredibly complex and important to our overall health. Numerous studies have demonstrated links between gut health and the immune system, mood, mental health, autoimmune diseases, endocrine disorders, skin conditions, and cancer. One way to improve gut health is to change your diet. Reduce the amount of processed, high sugar and high fat foods and eat more plant-based foods high in fiber, including spicy foods like chili peppers. Capsaicin can stimulate a healthy gut flora having a positive effect on our gut microbiome.

  • Pain reliever

If you have arthritis, shingles, headaches, or on-going pain from fibromyalgia, there’s evidence that using over-the-counter capsaicin creams can help treat pain of this conditions. The cream has a concentrated amount of capsaicin and has been proven to be effective.

  • Increases longevity

If a long, healthy life is your goal, then eating a hot pepper or two several times a week may be one way to achieve it. A Harvard School of Public Health study found that people who ate spicy foods six or seven times a week had a 14 percent lower risk of dying prematurely. Keep in mind that eating spicy foods have been shown to lower cancer prevention, improve heart health, and aid in weight loss, all components that can help you live longer and with overall better health.

Best foods containing capsaicin

Choosing the right “spicy” food is important to make sure you are getting the all-important compound of capsaicin. If eating spicy foods is a rarity for you, start slow by adding in small amounts of something like crushed red pepper or ground cayenne.

From there, try to include hot peppers and turmeric to a recipe or dish two to three times a week.  Eating hot peppers raw is a challenge so instead, sauté or cook them to make it a little easier for you. If you have a particularly sensitive stomach, try coupling eating spicy foods with yogurt or milk to help coat the stomach wall first.

Some people assume bell peppers – green, red, yellow, or orange – and black pepper is a part of what is considered a “spicy” food.  They are not considered “spicy” since none contains capsaicin.

If you find eating spicy foods intolerable, discuss with your healthcare provider about taking a capsaicin supplement.

Turn up the heat and your health with spicy foods
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Dr. David Samadi

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Dr. David Samadi