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Health Benefits of Spicy Foods

March 24, 2015

From the cayenne pepper and lemon juice diet to grapefruit-only and high carb meal plans, people across the country have experimented with countless weight loss crazes to shed pounds.

While most of these fad diets only produce temporary results, there’s a new “hot” diet trend that could have a more promising long-term effect: eating spicy foods.

That’s because these foods contain capsaicin, a phytonutrient and plant compound that gives peppers their signature heat and helps the body expel more calories.

But before you go crazy downing fistfuls of ghost chilis to lose weight, here are some tips for the best ways to incorporate a little more spice into your everyday diet.

Why Spicy Foods Are Good for Your Health

A study published in 2013 in the journal, Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care, indicated that capsaicin could help the body burn more fat. One group in the study who ate spicy foods for six weeks had a significantly higher calorie burn rate and lower body fat than other study participants.

But why?

Because capsaicin, which is found in the inner membrane or white part of peppers, stimulates thermodynamics in the body. They make your body produce more heat, which helps you burn more calories. This thermodynamic burn may continue for up to 30 minutes after you’ve consumed spicy foods, which extends the amount of time you burn calories, leading to more weight loss.

What to Eat

So, what should you eat to reap all these great health benefits?

First off, you don’t need to eat peppers whole to maintain a healthy weight. One study showed that capsaicin intake of just 0.01% of total daily calories may increase metabolic activity and energy expenditure. Here are some ideas for how to increase the spice in your diet:

Habanero peppers: These peppers have a lot of capsaicin, which means they’re very hot and have significant health benefits. You can add one bulb of habanero peppers to soups and stews to increase the spice factor or make them into a condiment (along with milder ingredients) to create a tasty sauce or dip.

Chili peppers: Though not as spicy as habanero peppers, these peppers are used to make cayenne and crushed red pepper. Just add a little sprinkle of chili peppers in place of black pepper in your food to get the additional health benefits.

Jalapeno peppers: Jalapeno peppers are milder than habanero and chili peppers, but are a rich source of vitamins A and C. They still pack a good punch when it comes to their spice level, but you can temper their heat by baking them and making dishes like stuffed jalapenos filled with ground turkey, beans, veggies and a little bit of cheese.

Hungarian peppers: Hungarian peppers are relatively mild. You can eat them whole or add them to your favorite foods for extra flavor.

Chili sauces and hot sauces: Whether you like sriracha or hot sauce, these condiments also provide the health benefits of capsaicin. They are great with greens, like arugula and kale, and really help to balance out their bitterness. Add just a dash of these sauces to your greens to get the calorie and fat-burning capabilities of capsaicin—no need to douse your vegetables in these condiments.

Aside from increasing the spice levels in your meals, it’s still important to eat a balanced diet with lots of whole grains, fruits and vegetables. I definitely know that eating steamed broccoli and asparagus can get boring, but adding a little spice might make these foods extra nice (pun intended)—and help you lose weight and maintain a healthy diet long term.