Plenty of people are addicted to delicious, spicy foods, celebrating the many cuisines around the globe with high-heat specialty dishes. Sichuan from China, berbere from Ethiopia, and Chenoi from India are especially revered for their spice and heat. Common spices used to increase the heat factor of the world’s best-loved spicy dishes include green and red chilis, curry powders, jerk seasonings, harissa, and Creole spice blends. These hot spices deliver big flavors, but they also come with surprising health benefits.
Various studies over recent decades note that the people of countries known for spicy cuisine experience fewer incidences of heart disease than those in many other countries. Chili peppers, in particular, appear to promote heart health. They contain a substance called capsaicin. This hot and spicy substance helps reduce bad LDL cholesterol in the body, which promotes heart health.
There’s scientific evidence that the capsaicin in hot and spicy foods can help reduce pain caused by inflammation, thanks to its natural anti-inflammatory properties. Moreover, the capsaicin is known to block pain signals from traveling to the brain. This temporarily provides respite from various types of pain. Many patches and creams available over the counter contain capsaicin.
Many people break out into a sweat while eating hot and spicy foods like Indian vindaloo or Sichuan hot-pot. It turns out this sweating, much like the results of a good workout, helps the body to burn calories. The New York Times reported eating a spicy meal can increase the body’s calorie-burning activity by 8%. The potent heat of spicy foods boosts metabolism, forcing it to work faster. Dieters often turn to spicy foods to help them achieve their weight-loss goals.
Many types of hot peppers are high in nutrients such as vitamin C and vitamin A. Deficiencies in the latter can contribute to reduced bone health. Although vitamin D, calcium, and protein are vital compounds bones need, vitamin A is equally important for maintenance. People low in vitamin A suffer bone fractures at a higher rate than people who have an optimum level of this vitamin.
Spicy foods might wake up and “set fire” to your mouth, but there’s evidence to suggest these foods help settle and soothe the stomach while they're at it. Many people who suffer periodic stomach aches may find relief after eating a spicy meal. Studies show spicy ingredients reduce the production of gastric acids that can upset the stomach. These ingredients may also help decrease the risk of peptic ulcers.
Cumin and turmeric are ingredients that are found in many spicy dishes from around the world—especially in the cuisines of Mexico and India. Research shows these ingredients have strong antimicrobial properties. They have the power to combat harmful bacteria in the body. These ingredients may even be able to help combat powerful pathogens like E. coli.
There is evidence that ingredients in many spicy foods could help reduce the risk of some cancers. Capsaicin in chilis, for instance, has been shown to reduce the growth of cancerous tumors and possesses the power to kill potentially deadly leukemic cells. This avenue of treatment requires more research, but the current evidence is promising.
There is significant evidence that eating spicy foods can make you happier. According to scientific research, many types of spicy foods promote the body’s feel-good hormones, like serotonin. These hormones help people cope more effectively with negative emotions like sadness, anger, and stress. Phaal curry and spicy Korean barbecue wings could offer respite from a bout of work-related stress or minor mood disturbances.
Some hot ingredients like chilis are high in vitamin C, one of the best vitamins for support of the immune system, which provides the frontline defense against illness and many serious diseases. The body cannot make or store vitamin C, so it is important to regularly eat foods that offer this nutrient.
A study in China followed 500,000 people. It found those who ate spicy foods regularly lived 14% longer than participants who did not enjoy a spicy diet. Spicy foods offer a wide array of health benefits that, in combination, could promote longevity. It is important to note that the positively affected individuals in the Chinese study ate spicy foods nearly every day.
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