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Spice Up Your Life: Five Health Benefits of Spicy Food

I’ll admit it, I’m a bit of a spice junky. I love jalapeños, red chilies, and even the occasional habanero-spiced hot sauce. It turns out, there are some great reasons why many people crave spicy food. The components in spicy food, particularly capsaicin in hot peppers, have some interesting health benefits, and research is showing that this is one taste you can indulge on a daily basis for optimum health.

Here are five healthy reasons to add some spice to your next meal!

1. Stay Slender and Spicy

Numerous studies have linked eating spicy food to increased weight loss, and maintaining a healthy weight over time. The reasons for this are still mysterious, but there are a couple of possibilities. Some research has indicated that people tend to eat spicy food more slowly, causing them to eat less before they feel full. Even a few bites less can really add up over time.

But there could be more to it than that. Spicy food, particularly the capsaicin in hot peppers, has been shown to slightly raise body temperature and actually increase metabolism immediately after it’s eaten. These benefits could last anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes after a meal.

2. Protect Your Heart

For quite a while now, it’s been observed that cultures that eat more spicy foods have lower incidence of heart disease. Scientists are still only beginning to learn how exactly it does that. Sure, a spicy diet correlates with lower rates of obesity, but there appears to be more to it than that. Spicy foods can lower your levels of LDL cholesterol (a.k.a. bad cholesterol), and increase your levels of HDL cholesterol, the healthy kind. Currently, researchers are also studying capsaicin’s ability to improve circulation, and even keep arteries healthy.

3. It’s Anti-Inflammatory

Another factor that might explain spicy food’s positive impact on heart health is its anti-inflammatory properties. A diet high in spicy food has been shown to decrease inflammation, and many people use topical capsaicin ointment, or simply eat spicy chilies, to treat chronic pain, arthritis, or other inflammatory symptoms.

How does it do this? A few ways. Science indicates that hot chilies inhibit the body’s production of certain substances that trigger inflammation. Spicy food is also a powerful anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agent, which promotes a healthy digestive system.

4. Chilies Are Packed With Nutrients

Along with offering the healthy properties of capsaicin, chilies are an excellent source of vitamins. An ounce of red chili pepper contains over half the vitamin C you need for a whole day, along with a healthy dose of vitamins A, B6, and folate, to name just a few. The best part? Peppers are packed with vitamins regardless of their spice content, so you can still get these nutrients even if you’re opting for a less spicy variety.

5. Boost Your Mood

Why do we crave hot and spicy food? In fact, eating it might actually make you happier! The burning sensation of eating something spicy triggers the release of endorphins and dopamine, two powerful “feel-good” hormones for the brain. Combined with its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, some people have actually reported long-term improvements in mood from eating spicy food, particularly in decreasing anxiety.

Wondering how you can increase your tolerance for spicy food? Start with paprika, which contains some capsaicin although it has very little spice, and gradually work your way up from there. Pairing spicy food with certain other foods– like yogurt, nuts, or sweets– can help cool down the spice. With a little practice, you might find yourself craving more and more spice.

If you already love spicy chilies as much as I do, then eat up! There are plenty of good reasons to add some spice to your life.