It’s hard to walk down the grocery store aisles these days without seeing food packaging that promotes health benefits. “Cheerios will lower your cholesterol!” “Eat ketchup and make your heart healthy!” “Drink cranberry juice to strengthen your immune system!”
Most of these claims are pure advertising that takes broad creative license with scant medical evidence. There are, however, a few store aisles worth noting that offer foods with no advertising yet proven benefits for your health. Find the spicy foods section, with items such as cayenne, chili, habanero and jalapeno peppers, as well as curries and turmeric—your body will be thanking you in no time.
All too often, shoppers steer clear of spicy foods, worried they will negatively affect their health in ways that include increased risk for ulcers or other digestive problems.
Spicy foods contain capsaicin—which puts the “hot” in hot peppers—and offers many health benefits, including pain relief. Studies have shown that the ingredient can decrease the incidence of cluster headaches, help treat and prevent cancer, psoriasis treatment, diabetes management and weight loss. What’s more, research shows that hot chili peppers even protect the stomach lining and may prevent damage that can occur with anti-inflammatory painkillers. Additionally, they are rich in nutrients, such as calcium and vitamins A and C, leading to some evidence that such peppers can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Another spice to consider: is turmeric, which gives curry its yellow color and has been used in India for thousands of years as a medicinal herb. It’s no wonder. The main active component of turmeric is curcumin, which research shows can prevent cancer and decrease inflammation in the body—resulting in many other health benefits.
The following are some other reasons adding a bit of spice to your life is a good thing.
- Weight Loss. Chilies have very few calories. What’s more, eating hot peppers increases body heat, which, in turn, boosts metabolism by 5% and increases fat burning by up to 16%. Research shows spicy foods can help decrease appetite and lower caloric intake. Chilies support weight loss by burning fat, boosting metabolism and making you feel full longer.
- Heart Health. Among the most significant benefits of spicy foods are the many benefits to heart health. Both red hot peppers and turmeric have positive effects on circulation. Capsaicin can cause blood vessels to dilate, which can lower blood pressure. Similarly, capsaicin can also prevent blood clots. Curcumin within turmeric has powerful anti-inflammatory properties, which can reverse damage to blood vessels and, in addition, lower cholesterol and prevent bad cholesterol from building up. All of these lead to a healthier heart.
- Longevity. Harvard and the China National Center for Disease Control found that people who ate spicy foods six to seven days a week had a 14 percent lower risk of dying prematurely. Finally, because spicy foods help with weight loss, cancer prevention and heart health, the combined effect is that adding spice to your life can help you live longer.
- Pain Relief. If your doctor has given you an over-the-counter pain relief cream, it likely contains capsaicin. Because capsaicin provides analgesic relief, it has been used for many years to treat pain from osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and certain kinds of joint pain. The pain relief properties in spices also may help debilitating cluster headaches. Curcumin, within turmeric, also can inhibit many of the molecules that are significant in inflammation. Because inflammation is a precursor to many diseases, effectively limiting inflammation with turmeric promotes overall health.
So what is the “right” amount of spicy food? How much is too much? The overall research shows that eating spicy foods two to three times a week will bring the health benefits described above. If it affects your stomach, eat it with yogurt, which will line the stomach wall. While daily spicy food intake should be fine, it is possible to overdo it. One study from Mexico found that people who ate nine to 25 jalapenos per day had a slightly increased risk of stomach cancer. But, by adding the right amount of spice to your life, a healthier life will likely occur.