Can Eating Spicy Foods Offer Health Benefits?

Despite their popular flavor, some people keep their distance from spicy foods because they find the hot sensation unbearable. In other cases, people believe they need to exclude spices from their diet completely to stay healthy.

"There is no evidence they have to do that. Spices in moderation are to be enjoyed, and there is no evidence that spicy food is bad for you," said Dr. Khursheed Jeejeebhoy, an emeritus professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, Canada.

In moderation, the use of spices in meals has been linked to a number of health benefits. Here are four of them.

1. Heart health benefits

study published in 2017 found a lower incidence of deaths caused by vascular disease, heart attacks, and stroke among those who consumed chili peppers. While causation was not proven, others have suggested spices can reduce levels of LDL cholesterol in the body when used in moderation.

"Our study shows that the enjoyment of spicy flavor is an important way to reduce salt intake and blood pressure, no matter the type of food and the amount of food," said Dr. Zhiming Zhu, senior author of another 2017 study.

2. Burn extra calories

According to a study from Purdue University, people burned more calories and had lowered appetites after eating red pepper. The effect was particularly strong in those who did not consume spicy foods on a regular basis.

But keep in mind a spicy ingredient alone is not a magical doorway to significant weight loss. The research team noted an occasional sprinkling of red pepper on your meal can be beneficial when combined with a healthy diet and an active lifestyle.

3. Prevention of cancer

Capsaicin, the ingredient which makes chili peppers spicy and hot, is thought by certain experts to have anti-cancer properties. 

"It has the same effects on the body as certain cancer drugs do," said Dr. Gregory A. Plotnikoff, senior consultant for healthcare innovation at Allina Hospitals and Clinics in Minnesota.

However, this benefit continues to be debated in medical literature due to conflicting findings. According to Cancer Research UK, turmeric has shown promising results in early clinical trials for preventing cancer cell growth.

4. Relieving pain

Capsaicin may also help by dulling or deadening any sensation of pain in the body. The mechanism here supposedly works by targeting a brain chemical known as “substance P,” which plays an important role in cases of hurt and injury.

This explains why it can even be used as an ingredient in pain relief creams and medications. Some studies have also suggested a diet with higher levels of capsaicin may have a protective effect against ulcers by killing the bacteria known as H. pylori.