If variety is the spice of life, then heat is the, well, spice of good food. You know what we mean. If you love spicy food, you’re on to something. Beyond it’s flavor-enhancing abilities, that extra kick can actually have positive physical impacts on your body—internally and externally. No two palettes are the same and, for some, the heat threshold is low and, for others, it’s super high. But no matter what your spice tolerance is, you can probably benefit from even a light sprinkle of chili flakes on your food. Here, we’re breaking down seven reasons to turn up the heat on your meals.
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1. Reduced Caloric Intake
“Eating some spicy foods at a meal could actually help you reduce your calorie intake,” says Dr. J Phillip E Gatcha, DC of Functional Health Institute of Atlanta. “This is because capsaicinoids in spicy foods, like chili peppers, have been shown to reduce cravings for fatty, sweet, and salty foods.” Simultaneously, while lowering your calories, spicy food can reduce unhealthy cravings for salty foods. According to a study performed by the American Heart Association, spicy foods actually increase our sensitivity to food additives like salt (which can be seen in a large number of processed foods).
2. Lower Inflammation
If you want to get rid of puffy under eye or unnecessary tummy bloat, pack in the spicy foods at your next meal time. Just like reducing caloric intake, “Capsaicin has been shown to fight inflammation, which is a major risk factor of heart problems and chronic disease throughout the body,” says Gatcha. So, along with aesthetically looking better and fighting inflammation, ingesting spicy or hot foods can reduce illnesses that are caused by an unhealthy gut.
3. Alleviated Cold or Flu-Like Symptoms
“A small amount of spice can open up your nasal passage and alleviate cold and flu-like symptoms,” says Nutritionist Tehzeeb Lalani. “Nasal congestion causes the nose to swell and the corresponding mucus to build-up. It becomes a lot more difficult to breathe. Spicy foods (fortunately) can thin out mucus and clear up congestion. This, in turn, opens up your nasal passages and alleviates cold and flu-like symptoms. In fact, a 2011 study led by University of Cincinnati Allergy Researcher Jonathan Bernstein, MD, found that a nasal spray containing an ingredient derived from hot chili peppers (Capsicum annum) may help people clear up certain types of sinus inflammation.”
4. Improved Digestion
“Adding spices to food (and to beverages, in some cultures) is an ancient way of ensuring that you’re eating slowly and not gulping down your food, thereby leading to better digestion,” says Lalani. For example, Lalani mentions how “most Indian vegetables are cooked with a range of spices, such as cumin and turmeric.” This helps to enhance flavor and slow down eating as your palette absorbs all the different flavors, which is nicer on your digestion as you ingest slowly. Additionally, hot or spicy foods leads us to constantly reach for water to help calm down our taste buds. So, on top of increasing the productivity for our digestive and gut health, eating spicy food can have us sipping our water more regularly and getting us towards our eight full glasses of water every day.
5. Increased Happiness
Just like exercise and laughter, spicy foods have the essential hormones to bring a smile to our faces. “There is research [that] shows that eating spicy food can produce serotonin—the happy hormone,” says Lalani. “For instance, turmeric has an active compound called curcumin, which has [been] shown to increase levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. In fact, curcumin could even cross the blood-brain barrier and has shown to lead to improvements in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. However, the exact mechanism isn’t fully known yet.”
6. Promotes Heart Health
As we previously mentioned, by aiding in inflammation and digestive health, spicy foods are assisting in two of the most important and crucial areas of the body. These, if left unchecked, could bring damage and disease to the rest of the body. The heart is a vital organ—it’s really the vital organ. We should take good care of it. As we’ve learned from Founder and Wellness Expert for Maple Holistics Caleb Backe, the heart is not left out when it comes to nutritional benefits from the extra heat. “The presence of vitamins A and C in spicy foods play a vital role in strengthening the heart muscle walls. Likewise, the heat produced by the spice increases blood flow and improves your overall circulation,” Backe says.
7. Good Nutrition
Our love for nutritious foods makes eating spicy ingredients easier. Most of the spices put in our meals are natural and taken from the ground. So, they’re loaded with nutrients and body healing factors that completely aid the body in receiving vital vitamins and minerals. Below, we’ve provided a brief breakdown (as there are over dozens that we could put on this list) of four of our favorite spice elements. We recommend everyone to try and incorporate them regularly into meals.
“Turmeric supports a healthy inflammatory response, boosts joint health [and] physical function, and improves overall musculoskeletal health. It’s so powerful. I recommend [a] turmeric supplement to many of my patients,” says Dr. Gatcha.
While spicy to some and not to others, garlic has insane nutritional benefits. These are heightened at its raw form, which tends to be a little on the intense/spicy side. “Garlic is another inflammation fighter that many consider a strong spice! In some people, [it is] also immensely beneficial [for] regulating blood pressure and blood sugar levels,” says Dr. Gatcha.
“Chilis are good for health because they are an excellent source of several nutrients. Vitamins A, B, C and E, and minerals like molybdenum, manganese, folate, potassium, thiamin, and copper. Vitamins A and C contain beta-carotenoid compounds, which are powerful antioxidants. They counter the cellular damage that our body goes through. This gives chilis their immune-boosting properties (like for cold and flu symptoms),” says Lalani.
Great in tea, ginger is known in Ayurvedic medicine as an anti-inflammatory. “The properties of ginger have been used for centuries to treat a range of conditions like arthritis, autoimmune disorders, and even headaches and nausea. Ginger also contains antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, which protect our bodies against harmful bacteria,” says Lalani.
No matter where your tolerance for spicy foods stands, it’s worth adding some heat to your meals throughout the week to reap these health benefits.
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