I am known among my friends and family for my love of spicy food. In fact, I carry a few small bottles of hot sauce wherever I go – in case there’s some kind of emergency.
And yes, I use them often.
Some people believe that the appeal of spicy food lies in the thrill of the challenge.
The pain it provides is what keeps us coming back for more. However, for me at least, this theory does not hold up. In my world, extra hot curry, five-alarm chili, and chicken vindaloo are comfort foods. They don’t hurt my tongue, and I don’t think I would eat them if they did. I sincerely enjoy the way these spicy flavors taste.
For this reason, I subscribe to the alternative theory that our body craves spicy foods because it needs them. The peppers and seasonings that go into creating these flavors are known to have numerous health benefits. I find it entirely possible that my flavoring needs are wellness related.
Here are four health benefits that spicy foods are known to provide:
1. Spicy foods boost the immune system.
A Harvard University study found that people who consume chili peppers at least three times each week are 26% less likely to die from infection. This benefit was even greater in women, who experienced a 45% decreased risk of death from infectious disease. It would seem that eating spicy foods has a way of sending the immune system into overdrive, rendering us less susceptible to infectious disease and more capable of warding it off.
2. Hot peppers have been proven to fight against cancer.
Capsaicin, the active component in chili peppers, has been determined through many scientific studies to be a powerful anti-carcinogenic. Additionally, cultures where spicy foods are more prevalent, such as India, have been shown to enjoy lower rates of cancer than cultures that tend to eat more bland food. Because of the variety of spices used to flavor Indian food, it can be assumed that chili peppers are not the only heat source behind this effect.
3. The burn is good for the heart.
The same Harvard University study linked above found that eating chili peppers at least once each week decreased a subject’s chances of dying from a heart attack by 18%. According to the CDC, heart disease is currently responsible for a staggering one in four deaths in the United States, making it the leading cause of death for both men and women. Combine your love of spicy food with a healthy diet, an exercise routine, and a conscious commitment to stress management, and lower your risk today.
4. Hot foods can help us to burn extra weight.
First of all, most foods that deliver the burn – such as jalapeños, chilies, and other hot peppers – are very low in calories and extremely potent in flavor. As such, they have the power to stop us from loading our food up with less nutritious flavor boosters, like creamy, sugary, fattening sauces. Secondly, the spiciness itself has been proven to raise body temperature, causing us to burn extra calories and fat as our body processes the food.
Are you wanting to reap these health benefits, but not ready to spice up your life too much just yet? Start small. Sprinkle red pepper flakes on a pizza. Stir some garlic into your spaghetti. Add some ginger to a baking project. Once you find the right note for your taste buds, there will be no stopping you!