It’s Winter. And it’s cold. I’m not made for this stuff.
So for the love of Pete, let’s talk about heat!…of the edible variation.
My hot-sauce-lovin’ hubby has been trying to convert me to his spicy ways for years, but only recently have I managed to crank up my tolerance for fiery food. I’m still not big on the vinegar-ish twang of most hot sauces, but I have started shaking more cayenne pepper onto my plate these days.
Why? Well, it really does add a layer of vibrant flavor. But there’s also plenty of research backing the health benefits of eating spicy food. So here’s a quick rundown of a few reasons to start kicking up the intensity of heat in your cuisine.
#1 Burn Flab and Block Fat
I mean, come on. It’s January. The bulk of the adult human population is at least considering losing a few pounds right now. And, capsaicin—one of the main compounds that gives hot peppers their heat—can help make that happen by revving up the body’s natural fat burning ability. The thermogenic power of spicy peppers has been recognized for centuries, but recent research has pointed to even greater metabolic benefits.
When consumed with your meals, capsaicin not only helps burn existing body fat stores, but it can also help you digest new dietary fat more effectively. Scientists have found that when cayenne pepper or other types of hot peppers are added to fatty dishes (hello, my beloved alfredo sauce) the capsaicin actually helps the body process the fat so that it can be better used as fuel rather than stored on your hips. Yes, please!
#2 Kick Your Flu in the Face
You know the feeling. The sniffling, sneezing, coughing and aching from the nasty cold and flu viruses running rampant in the dry environments of winter. Before you brave the blustery winds outside to go to the pharmacy, try hitting up your spice rack.
A piping-hot plate of spicy nachos may be just the ticket to save you from your mucus-y misery. Listen. I’ve got a personal testimony on this one, people! It was actually seasonal allergies for me, but same concept. I worked at a coffee shop in high school and one morning I just could not handle my intense sinus pressure and infuriatingly plugged-up nose brought on by the budding trees of spring. One of my regular customers swore to me that he could cure my symptoms. He left the shop and returned 30 minutes later with a batch of homemade nachos with a HOT sauce that made my eyes water. He insisted that I ate them. And guess what? Cured. Seriously like, b-o-o-m. My sinuses opened and I felt like a brand new barista.
Scientists confirm my experience. It seems counterintuitive, but the chemical compounds in hot peppers cause an anti-inflammatory response in the body when ingested that can reduce swelling in your sinuses and act as an expectorant (meaning you’ll be able to cough up all the crap in your chest and get it the heck outta ya!). And when the dish is not only spicy-hot, but also consumed at a very warm temperature, you can enhance the effects and promote expansion of the bronchial tubes so you can breathe easier.
#3 Hurt-So-Good Mood Boosts
You know that guy who willingly chooses to order the hottest of the hot wings on the B-Dubs menu? Crazy, I know. But if that guy also tends to be the life of the party, he may be onto something. Studies have suggested that spicy foods have a positive impact on brain function, increasing feelings of happiness and well-being. The sensation that comes with that basket of “lethal” hot wings acts as a sort of high, causing serotonin levels to surge.
If you can handle a little extra heat, you might have more fun in the sheets. That hot sauce is gonna get your blood pumping… if you know what I mean.
#4 Spicy Food is Sweet for Your Cells
These last two points sort of reinforce some of what I’ve already mentioned. For instance, as I stated in #2, hot peppers actually cause an anti-inflammatory response when ingested. This is true at the cellular level and can offer great health benefits.
Capsaicin has commonly been used for pain management in topical applications, but it also appears to be effective when consumed internally. Other spices besides hot peppers—such as turmeric, cinnamon and ginger—are also well known for their anti-inflammatory properties. There are entire books dedicated to explaining why it’s important to minimize inflammation in the body, but for now, just know that your body will thank you for feeding it these super spices.
If you have chronic pain, swelling, arthritis or other joint pain, try adding some of these spices into your diet or supplementation program and see if it helps to ease your symptoms.
#5 Kick It Up for Cardio Health
As mentioned in #3, spicy food will get your blood pumping, and the benefits aren’t just temporary. Cardiologists suggest that fiery flavors may be beneficial for your heart health because they promote good circulation and appear to lower blood pressure. These two effects help to reduce strain on the heart. Of course, you need to talk to your doctor about your specific health profile, but it does seem to make sense to add more spice to your diet to help improve your overall wellness.
So there you have it. Plenty of motivation to start training your tastebuds to better tolerate the hot stuff.
And I just have to end with this. The whole time I’ve been working on this post, I’ve been singing in my head, “People of the world—Spice up your life! Every boy and every girl—Spice up your life!”
Oiy. Please tell me I’m not the only one…