Five reasons why spicy food is healthy for you

Spicy products add flavor and heat to your food, and have several important health benefits. Chili peppers can reduce chance of developing certain diseases, help prevent obesity and soothe stomachs.

chili pepper 370 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
chili pepper 370
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)

Some people like sweet foods, others prefer sour or bitter, and many like spicy. If you also like feeling your mouth burn with spiciness, you'll be happy to know that in the right amounts foods containing hot chili pepper can provide a wide range of health benefits.

Let's start with a fact: Spicy isn’t a taste. It’s common to think that spiciness is one of the tastes like sweet, bitter, sour or salty yet actually spiciness is a burning sensation on the tongue’s pain receptors and not in the taste buds. 

For this reason, exposing other areas of the body without taste buds to food substances considered spicy may trigger a sensation of heat, pain or burning similar to that created in the oral cavity, and the active chemical substance that gives it the spiciness, capsaicin, is responsible for these sensations.

Besides this, what health benefits are there of eating spicy food?

1. Extending longevity

The most recent large, comprehensive study published on the benefits of hot chili pepper was conducted in 2020. The study, presented for the first time at the scientific meeting of the American Heart Association, found that people who eat chili peppers may die less from heart disease or cancer and may live longer than those who don’t eat them.

This study analyzed the health and dietary records of more than 570,000 people in the US, Italy, China and Iran and compared chili eaters with those who rarely or never eat the spicy vegetable. The analysis found that people who ate chili peppers had a 26% less risk of dying from heart disease, 23% reduced risk of cancer and 25% less risk of dying from any cause.

2. Obesity prevention

Evidence shows that eating capsaicin increases a feeling of satiety, and decreases the number of calories and fat eaten in meals. Also, eating foods with capsaicin can increase the amount of energy we expend and fat tissue oxidation which might prevent weight gain.

3. Potential to reduce cancer development

Preclinical studies revealed that capsaicin has a positive effect on causing the death of cancer cells and inhibiting their growth. Although research on this subject is minimal and there’s no solid evidence that eating spicy chili peppers will prevent cancer, researchers are discussing the potential of medicines that contain capsaicin.

4. Relief during colds

Eating hot chili peppers may also provide some relief in breathing during colds, respiratory tract infections, sinusitis, and asthma because capsaicin in the oral cavity and throat causes fluids to flow in the respiratory tract. When phlegm softens and is looser it’s easier to spit it out.

5. Soothes stomach aches

Perhaps counterintuitive, hot pepper may be just what you need when your stomach hurts. Researchers say both chili peppers and marijuana interact with the same receptors in the stomach to calm an irritable bowel.

 In a study conducted at the University of Connecticut, the research team fed mice capsaicin. They found that the chemical binds to TRPV1, a particular receptor on cells within the digestive tract. When this happens, anandamide is formed, a compound chemically similar to cannabinoids in marijuana. 

Anandamide causes the immune system to calm the intestines including the esophagus, stomach and pancreas. The chemical also binds to another receptor to recruit immune cells which prevents inflammation.