Is spicy food healthy? We ask the experts

Food & Drink

At DOSE, we’ll do anything for an endorphin rush and are partial to a chilli competition or two. But aside from the metabolism boosting benefits, is spicy food healthy? Charlotte asks the experts…

There’s some mixed views on spices. Some (like me) choose to believe it speeds up your metabolism, meaning chilli chocolate is good for you – right? For others, it can lead to indigestion. So I asked the pros.

Is spicy food healthy?

First of all, spicy foods can certainly make you sweat, but this is no bad thing. Capsaicin is the active ingredient in hot peppers. “Capsaicin binds to receptors in the mouth. They react to the capsaicin and send warning signals to the brain. This is a similar response to something which is hot (in temperature), so the body reacts by trying to cool off,” nutritionist Gabriela Peacock tells me, hence the sweating. It’s not a bad thing, just a natural process,” Gabriela says.

Spicy food for weight loss

Many people think spice is an automatic route to weight loss. Emma Rose is a nutritionist at meal delivery service Fresh Fitness Food. “Capsaicin has been touted as a magic fat burner. In reality while capsaicin can can increase your internal temperature slightly and lead to a temporary increase in metabolism, it hasn’t been shown to result in any measurable increase in weight loss.” So far, so good. However, she says, there may be another reason why people attribute fat loss to eating spicy foods. “As the heat builds up (and depending on your tolerance) you may find that you are either eating slower, or stop eating sooner due to the heat. This results in less calories consumed overall, which does impact weight management.”

Spicy food for inflammation

If you’re not in it for weight loss, spicy foods have a host of health benefits. “Capsaicin can help to reduce inflammation in the body. Lower rates in inflammation can lead to a reduced risk of certain types of cancer, arthritis, psoriasis, eczema, and many other diseases,” Emma says. She goes on, “chilli peppers pack quite the punch of vitamin E. When we exercise the body produces free radicals, these can cause oxidative stress to our cells which have the potential to lead to cancer. Vitamin E and beta carotene – which is also found in chilli peppers – help to destroy and remove free radicals from the body, thereby reversing this effect.”

So in short, spicy foods are generally good for you, but certainly not a holy grail to weight loss. “For most people, spicy food “is a perfectly healthy part of a balanced diet,” Gabriela says. Spices are also a low calorie way of adding lots of flavour to vegetable, chicken and meat dishes, so if you can tolerate it, keep it spicy.

By Charlotte

Main image: Bombay Burner, Cinnamon Club

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