Spicy foods do more than add flavor to your favorite meal. Heat-packing foods, particularly chili peppers, jalapenos, habaneros, and cayenne, offer a surprising range of health benefits:
The hot sensation in spicy foods comes from the compound capsaicin. Studies have shown that eating a hot, spicy dish can burn extra calories by temporarily boosting metabolism by as much as eight percent. Also, when eating a spicy meal people are generally satisfied on smaller portions, so fewer calories are consumed. In a Canadian study, men who ate an appetizer with hot sauce consumed 200 fewer calories than their counterparts who did not have hot sauce.
Another benefit from spicy foods is improved heart function. The same capsaicin that produces a heat sensation on the tongue has also been shown to lower bad cholesterol. In a study published by the American Chemical Society, researchers found that capsaicin helps reduce the buildup of cholesterol while increasing blood flow by blocking a gene that causes arteries to narrow.
There’s evidence that some spicy foods may have cancer-fighting properties. According to the American Cancer Society, capsaicin has been shown to slow the rate at which prostate cancer cells grow. In a separate lab study, researchers found that Turmeric, a peppery-flavored spice from India, contains the active antioxidant curcumin, which may have anti-cancer benefits.
Lower blood pressure
Studies suggest that capsaicin increases nitric oxide in the blood stream, which in turn helps protect against inflammation and lower blood pressure. Of all spicy foods, cayenne pepper is believed to lower blood pressure the most quickly.
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Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a registered dietitian in New York City and the author of two bestselling diet books: The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear – with fiber and The F-Factor Diet. Follow Tanya on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and subscribe to her free weekly weight loss newsletter.