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 have joined the trend, including Wendy’s. It might seem gimmicky, but these eateries are just responding to a growing desire for spicy foods.
While drive-through meals certainly aren’t great for your figure, the spicy ingredients they use are actually pretty smart additions to your regular foods. And it’s not just because of 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. They give your metabolism a 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 small 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 seems to be 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. You’ll 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. It turns out that 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. Just bear in mind, this is a relatively small sample size. Even still, hot chiles themselves are pretty slimming. An entire jalapeño only contains 4 calories, so you can add plenty to your meals.
3. You could have a healthier heart
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both males and females in the U.S. Risk factors include obesity and diabetes, but no one is immune. Some don’t even experience symptoms before a fatal incident.
It just so happens 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 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. It’s worth noting these examples were both animal studies, but the results certainly seem promising.
4. They can help 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 explains consuming spicy foods can help clear clogged nasal passages and 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. They may reduce 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. Healthline says the capsaicin in spicy chiles can help battle inflammation, which is responsible for the uncomfortable swelling many associate with arthritis. And according to Today, it can be just as beneficial for people with other autoimmune diseases or asthma.
6. Potential to 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 reports 600,920 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. Just be aware, this research has yet to be tested on humans. There’s still a lot of research to be done, but it’s certainly encouraging.
7. They boost longevity
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 PLOS ONE found folks who regularly consume fiery foods experience a reduced risk of death. So, load your morning eggs with all the hot sauce you want because you may live longer for it.