The Surprising Reason Why Spicy Foods Are Good for You, According to Experts

Red chilli peppers


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Red chilli peppers

Hot and Healthy

Is spicy food harmful? While a powerful chili may make you sweat and cry like you’ve ingested a fiery poison, spicy foods and their active ingredient, capsaicin, can be beneficial, according to experts. Of course, you can overdo it — one man ruptured his esophagus after eating a ghost pepper — but spicy foods are generally nourishing, helping you potentially lose weight, fight cancer cells, and even live longer.

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Spicy Miso
Sarita N./Yelp

Spicy Foods May Help You Live Longer

A 2015 study found that participants who ate spicy foods between six and seven times a week saw a 14% decrease in mortality compared to participants who ate spicy foods less than once a week. While the study’s authors didn’t definitively identify the cause, they note that capsaicin has anti-obesity, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Related:Spicy Fast-Food Menu Items to Order If You're Feeling Brave

Spicy okra, Himalayan Kitchen
Spicy okra, Himalayan Kitchen by Joel Abroad (CC BY-NC-SA)
Spicy Chipotle Salsa

Spicy Foods Could Help You Lose Weight

If you feel the burn at the gym and in the kitchen, you could be on your way to dropping a few pounds. A meta-analysis that looked at 90 studies found that the group of chemicals found in chili peppers could reduce appetite, increase energy expenditure, and reduce abdominal fat. The study’s authors write that while spicy foods aren’t a “magic bullet,” they might play a role in a weight loss program.

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Spicy Stir-Fry
Spicy Broccoli Stir-Fry/istockphoto

Spicy Foods Can Improve Your Gut Health

Growing evidence shows that the body’s microbiome can affect everything from your heart to your mental health. Capsaicin could keep that gut bacteria in check, according to a 2020 study. While the mechanism isn’t fully understood, the study’s authors discuss capsaicin’s antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Capsaicin Cream

Spicy Foods May Fight Cancer Cells

In 2006, researchers found that capsaicin inhibited the growth of prostate cancer cells in mice, prompting the study’s authors to call for a potential clinical trial. Capsaicin cream has also been shown to help cancer patients deal with nerve pain.

small red hot chilli pepper plants

Spicy Foods Release Feel-Good Chemicals

If you’ve ever marveled at a chilehead’s penchant for suffering, know that the pain caused by spicy food is enjoyable. When you bite into a hot pepper, capsaicinoids interact with a protein that normally detects physical heat, which tells your brain that the pepper is hot (and painful). Those pain signals release endorphins, a pain-inhibiting hormone, and dopamine, the neurotransmitter for pleasure.

Grilled Spicy Hot Spare Pork Ribs Barbecue

Spicy Foods Are Antibacterial

The link between spicy foods and hotter climates is in part because of spices’ antibacterial qualities, according to researchers from Cornell University. People who ate spicier foods in hotter climes — which are more prone to foodborne illnesses — were healthier, and so they passed down this knowledge. For instance, nearly every meat-based recipe calls for at least one spice in hotter parts of the world.

Red chilli peppers

Some Spicy Foods Are Rich in Vitamins and Minerals

Spicy foods are packed with vital nutrients. Chili peppers, for instance, are abundant in vitamin C, B6, K1, and A, which promote a healthy immune system and healing, among other health benefits.