When it comes to healthy eating, spicy food gets some pretty mixed reviews. On the one hand, there’s talk that it speeds up metabolism; and on the other, that it causes acid reflux. So…what gives?
According to Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and Read It Before You Eat It the whole spicy food causing acid reflux thing isn’t totally accurate. “Most people who have reflux or gastro issues don’t eat spicy food, because they worry it might make them feel worse,” she says. But, while it may seem counterintuitive, “it can actually decrease acid production,” she says.
So, if you’ve been avoiding spicy food, Taub-Dix doesn’t recommend having a crazy on-fire meal right away, but rather introduce spice slowly into your life. The key to doing so-and keeping it a mainstay in your diet-is actually super simple. “Ditch the salt and add blends of different spices and seasonings [to your meals],” she says. Plus, they help add delicious flavor to an array of colorful veggies and proteins-making them even more enticing to eat.
The issue is that spicy foods or hot sauces tend to be notoriously high in salt, which can have negative effects on heart health. When you buy spicy foods or products at the store, check the label for ingredient order. Ideally, you want the spice itself, like jalapeño, habanero, chili powder at the very top-with salt low on the list, or not at all.
Okay…but why bother going through all this trouble? Well, it turns out spicy food does pack a lot of benefits after all.
1. It may boost your metabolism.
Taub-Dix says spicy foods like hot chili peppers contain the active compound capsaicin, which helps boost metabolism as part of a healthy diet.
“I wouldn’t rely on it as a weight loss method, though” she says. If you’re eating something not so healthy, with hot sauce on top, it doesn’t cancel out.
Not a fan of mouth-burning spice? The compound is also found in milder spices like turmeric and cumin, she says.
2. It can curb sugar cravings.
Ever get a hankering for sweets even though you’re not even remotely hungry? Taub-Dix says spicy food works similar to toothpaste: You rarely want to go to town on sweets once your mouth is all minty fresh.
“The hot and spicy taste means you don’t want cookies after that,” she says. “I’ve had patients say that when they have chili sauce or jalapeño, they’re satisfied not looking for more because it feels like they’ve hit the spot.”
And speaking of spicy foods…watch Chrissy Teigen taste-test some crazy chip flavors:
3. It can reduce inflammation.
Inflammation is behind a host of serious illnesses, and Taub-Dix says capsaicin has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. “There have been studies that show it reduces the effects of LDL cholesterol [the bad kind], and we know reducing inflammation is something that has a positive effect on fighting heart issues and cancer,” she says.
4. It could boost your immune system.
While eating fistfuls of hot Cheetos won’t ward off the common cold, the idea is that spices contain antioxidant and antimicrobial properties that protect against bacteria in the body, according to Taub-Dix. Hot lemon water with a dash of cayenne à la Beyoncé cleanse might not be the worst thing in the world at the onset of sniffles.
5. It may…spice up your libido.
Not feeling it tonight? Have a hot date with some hot wings. According to Taub-Dix, consuming spicy foods increases testosterone, the hormone tied to libido.
If you’re looking for a partner who can keep up, one study from the journal Physiology and Behavior found that those who gravitate towards spicy foods have higher levels of testosterone to begin with.
6. It can help you stay regular.
So, it’s not exactly the spicy foods themselves that’ll make you go, but all the chugging you’ll do to offset the burning pain, according to Taub-Dix. “It triggers you to drink more water, which helps with constipation,” she says.
7. It may reduce symptoms of depression.
According to Taub-Dix spicy foods can release the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, which helps boost mood or alleviate depression. Keep in mind, though, that mental health issues can be debilitating if left untreated. So seek professional help if you think you might have a problem, and don’t rely on spicy foods as a cure-all.