When you think of spicy foods, it may not seem like there are a lot of healthy options. Wings are a chief spicy dish, but the intense popularity of spice has led it to spread to other foods. By adding a little heat to your meals, you may be doing your body a favor. It may not feel it now, but down the road, you’ll begin to notice the benefits.

Weight Loss

As you pick through a selection of hot wings or chow on a flaming curry, you may not be thinking you’re helping your diet, but studies suggest that hot food might be able to help you lose weight.

Capsaicin, the chemical that makes chili peppers hot, has been shown to aid in weight loss by creating heat that burns fat. See, capsaicin triggers thermogenesis, which is the process that warm-blooded animals use to create body heat. How? Capsaicin stimulates the conversion of white fat to brown fat. Brown fat burns calories, thereby generating heat. Studies also suggest that foods containing turmeric, the spice in curry powder, can limit the growth of fat tissue, even in high-fat diets.

Beyond fat-burning, spicy foods can aid weight loss by controlling your appetite. That’s right, spicy foods can make you feel fuller. Studies found that ingesting less than a teaspoon of dried cayenne can reduce a person’s appetite. Spice may even cut your cravings for salty, fatty, or sweet treats! Finally, we are learning that spice can raise your metabolic resting rate. Again, this is due to thermogenesis.

General Health

Heart Health

The health benefits of hot food extend beyond weight loss, though. For example, spicy food can be great for heart health, according to studies done on laboratory animals. Capsaicin has been shown to cause blood vessels to dilate, and in turn, improve blood flow and lower blood pressure. Other studies link capsaicin with lower levels of LDL, a.k.a. “bad” cholesterol, in the body. This influential compound could be your ally against a host of deadly heart diseases.

Cancer Prevention

Beside weight loss and helping your heart, there’s not much else that adding capsaicin does for your body, right? Actually, not even close! Recent research is beginning to shed light on the anticancer properties of capsaicin. Evidence points to capsaicin limiting the growth of cancer cells and even being more effective. That’s right, capsaicin may destroy cancer cells.

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Hot food may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but you might not have known just how healthy this cup may be. If you’re nervous about starting to eat spicy food, it’s OK to take baby steps. Try adding mild sauces or a few red pepper flakes to your food here or there. Even introducing a mild amount of heat to your diet can have benefits throughout your body. Maybe it’s time to spice up your diet a bit!

Further Reading

SELF — 5 Hidden Health Benefits of Spicy Foods
TODAY — Spicy foods: The health effects of adding heat to your meal