Once associated only with international cuisines, spicy chiles and other tongue-tingling ingredients now grace the menus of nearly every type of restaurant in the U.S. Even fast food joints are joining the trend, including Hardee’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s. It might seem gimmicky, but these eateries are just responding to a growing desire for spicy foods. According to a 2013 study, more than half of Americans now seek out eats that pack a kick.
While drive-through meals certainly aren’t great for your figure, the spicy ingredients they use are actually a pretty smart addition to your regular foods. In addition to the burning sensation so many have grown to love, hot chiles offer some surprising health advantages. Read on to learn about seven ways adding a little spice to your cooking can keep you in fighting form.
1. Metabolism boost
Everyone wants to find ways to boost their metabolism once it tops out during their 20s. Some folks look to lifting weights and others swear by eating small meals throughout the day to keep unwanted pounds off. A dash of cayenne could also do the trick. The key player is capsaicin, the compound responsible for the incendiary quality we associate with chiles. According to a 2013 study sponsored by McCormick, subjects experienced a boost in metabolism when a dose of capsaicin was added to their meals.
Though spicy foods may aid your ability to lose weight, it’s not an excuse to let your diet slide. The effect is temporary, so you would have to constantly be eating chiles in order to maintain that level of burn. The amount is also important. A 2012 review showed larger doses of capsaicin give you the most benefit, but it’s not realistic to set your mouth on fire constantly in the hopes of smaller waist. Yes, you can enjoy a metabolic boost, but it’s a pretty modest change.
2. Consume fewer calories
Folks trying to lose weight often struggle because they always feel hungry. Foods filled with fat and protein can certainly help, but it’s a slippery slope. Since many of these satisfying eats are calorie dense, it can be easy to go overboard. Reaching for spicy food could be a better choice. A 1999 Canadian study found men who consumed spicy chiles as part of an appetizer ate fewer calories in the following meal as well as later in the day. And hot peppers themselves are pretty slimming. An entire jalapeño only contains 4 calories, so you can add plenty to your meals.
3. Healthier heart
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease killed 307,225 men in 2009, which represents 25% of the total number of deaths that year. Risk factors include obesity and diabetes, but no one is immune. Some don’t even experience symptoms before a fatal incident.
Including a little bit of heat in your foods could be one of the keys to keeping your ticker healthy. Researchers presented a study at an American Chemical Society (ACM) meeting in 2012 that indicated adding capsaicin to your diet can protect your heart by lowering cholesterol as well as preventing arteries from contracting. Another study from 2014 found similar results, so the future looks promising.
4. Clear congestion
Eating a fiery curry or pot of chili often makes people start to sniff. That runny nose is actually a clue to what’s going on inside your body. Livestrong explained consuming spicy foods can help clear clogged nasal passagesand ease the effects of congestion. Interestingly, capsaicin may be even more effective when applied topically. A 2011 study from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine showed nasal sprays containing capsaicin can drastically improve certain types of sinus problems.
5. Reduced inflammation
Many cultures have long looked to various plants for medicinal purposes, and it might be time to bring the practice back to the 21st century. Everything from garlic to ginger has been used to cure some sort of ailment. With chiles, the aim is usually to diminish pain. And the idea may not be that far fetched. Last year, a study found capsaicin to be an effective way to reduce inflammation, which is responsible for the uncomfortable swelling many associate with arthritis. According to Today, it can be just as beneficial for people withautoimmune diseases or asthma.
6. Ward off cancer
Though heart disease still holds the top spot as the most deadly disease in the U.S., cancer isn’t far behind. The American Cancer Society reported 589,430 people are expected to die of cancer this year. Unlike most ailments, this one is a lot more varied as it can strike just about any part of your body. Many seek out foods that have been shown to reduce their risk, but chiles are an especially smart choice. The spicy eats have been linked to lowering the chances of winding up with certain types of cancer, including colon cancer. Prevention is just the beginning, though.
According to a recent report from the American Chemical Society (ACS), capsaicin may be an effective way to kill cancer cells while leaving healthy ones unharmed. There’s still a lot of research to be done, but it’s certainly encouraging.
7. Longer life
The fountain of youth may be out of reach, but the fountain of longevity could be just around the corner. Many have adopted a Mediterranean diet high in legumes and fish in the hopes of adding years to their lives, and new research is showing spicy eats might play an equally important role. Research published in BMJ found folks who regularly consume fiery foods experience a reduced risk of death by all causes. So load your morning eggs with all the hot sauce you want because you may live longer for it.