The myth that spicy food is not good for you is long-standing. But, if you're a lover of hot peppers and spicy food, you'll be glad to know that it's time to dispel that myth. Some people avoid spicy foods because they can't handle them, but others might do so unnecessarily, believing that these foods are unhealthy. Read on to find out why you actually don't need to avoid your favorite dishes anymore.
What makes spicy food spicy?
In order to understand the health benefits of spicy foods, you first need to know what makes things like peppers spicy. The culprit is a chemical called capsaicin. Pepper plants use capsaicin to repel animals, insects and mites that would otherwise consume the plant. It is also believed that capsaicin protects the seeds inside the peppers from fungus, which increases the plant's chances of successfully reproducing.
There is still ongoing research into the effects capsaicin has on our health, but there are also already a number of indications that the chemical provides quite a few health benefits.
1. Protecting your stomach lining
Traditionally, people have assumed that spicy foods are hard on their digestive systems. Research has shown links between chili peppers and the prevention of gastric distress caused by some painkillers.
2. Preventing stomach ulcers
Research has indicated that hot chilies can decrease the production of gastric acid, which may be helpful in preventing peptic ulcers. There is also some discussion of the fact that capsaicin may help to kill the bacteria that cause many ulcers.
3. Weight loss
Spicy foods raise your metabolism, which is very helpful in losing weight. An increased metabolic rate will give you more energy to exercise off the pounds. At the same time, your boosted metabolism will help you burn more calories, even without exercise.
4. Clearing out your sinuses
Capsaicin is similar to compounds found in decongestants. You might already know this if you've ever had a runny nose after eating spicy food. This can have a beneficial effect if you are congested because it will prompt your mucus membranes to drain. In addition, the Vitamin A found in spicy foods helps to strengthen mucus membranes, which also contributes to preventing germs from finding their way into your system.
5. Strengthening your heart
Hot peppers are full of antioxidants that can help slow aging, and leave you with a stronger heart. Some study results indicate that peppers can lower the level of LDL (the "bad" cholesterol), while raising the levels of HDL (the "good" cholesterol). Other studies are underway to explore the ability of spicy foods to improve circulatory health and prevent hardening of the arteries around the heart.
6. Improving mood
Spicy foods do an excellent job of releasing endorphins in the brain. The effect is reduced anxiety and stress. In addition, spicy foods increase the serotonin in your brain, with the benefit of making you feel good and helping you sleep better.
7. Reducing pain and inflammation
If you've ever had extensive muscle pain, you may have used a cream containing capsaicin to relieve the pain. It's believed that capsaicin works on pain in a couple of different ways. Topically, capsaicin activates the heat receptors in our skin so that they provide a soothing heat. And the fact that capsaicin also triggers endorphins can help to reduce arthritis pain and itchy skin conditions.
Now that you know how beneficial spicy foods can be, try adding more spice to your diet. If you're not already a spicy-hot lover, start off slow. Keep in mind that you can learn to love the taste over time. Experiment with spicy dishes from Thailand and India. Many restaurants will be happy to customize the heat level so that you can build up to the four-alarm dishes one meal at a time.
You don't need to be afraid of spicy foods. The health benefits alone should encourage you to increase your tolerance. You may even find that you love the variety that spicy foods provide.
Best Health Magazine: Why spicy food is good for you
Health News: 6 Reasons to Love Spicy Food
Nutrition Secrets: Why Spicy Food is So Good For You
National Pesticide Information Center: Capsaicin General Fact Sheet