You’ve spiced up your life, you’ve spiced up your house, and you’ve spiced up your smoothies. But I’m not here to talk about spices – I’m here to talk about spicy. Sriracha or Tabasco, Cayenne or Habanero, how do you heat up your dish?
And what do you get from it? A new study in the British Medical Journal says that adding a bit of spice and heat to your food may actually make you live longer than those who live a more bland-tasting life.
The Spice is Right?
Half a million people in China made up the study wherein researchers found those who eat spicy foods twice a week or more reduce their risk of death by 10 percent. Eating spicy foods 6 times or more per week reduces the risk by 14 percent.
But that’s just one side of the pepper. Spicy foods have some benefits, yes, but they could be damaging for other with digestive disorders, and other internal issues. Let’s talk about healthy heat and how you can realize all of its benefits without succumbing to its setbacks.
Spicy Foods: The Good and Bad
Spicy foods like jalapenos, habaneros and cayenne all have capsaicin which contains these foods health benefits. New York City gastroenterologist Dr. Prem Chattoo says this “natural chemical speeds up the metabolism by increasing heart rate and body temperature.”
Cindy Kasindorf, co-founder of Joni Juice talks about the benefits of spicy foods at the right time. “The best time to eat spicy food is with a heavier meal during lunch or dinner. It will stimulate the digestive tract,” she suggests.
While capsaicin has health benefits, it also has some drawbacks. “Capsaicin can be a very potent irritant. It can cause damage to the lining in the stomach, which in turn can cause gastritis, stomach ulcers and even intestinal disease such as colitis,” says Dr. Chattoo.
Slow Down Aging
Spicy food can “slow down the aging process by increasing blood flow to the face and body. This makes skin look and feel more youthful,” says Chattoo. Kasindorf adds that “any foods that help with the inside of your body will make you look better on the outside.”
Speed Up Your Movements
Something that certainly doesn’t get mentioned around the table, but nevertheless is true: Spicy foods can irritate your bowels and gut. Dr. Chattoo says that spicy foods can even “worsen hemorrhoids by causing further damage and irritation.” They make IBS worse and could cause diarrhea.
“Spicy foods are an excellent way to relieve sinus congestion and open up the breathing airway,” says Cindy Kasindorf, who started Joni Juice to help families and kids manage and overcome certain health issues.
Improved blood flow and circulation improves your entire system. People with sinus conditions will see a decrease in symptoms after eating spicy foods, but they are not alone.
“For centuries, chili peppers have been noted as being medicinal. Since they are chock full of vitamins like A and C, they can help boost the immune system and even fight the common cold,” says Pamela Elizabeth, of the Blossom and Blossom Du Jour restaurants.
Are you enhancing the flavor of your dish or diminishing the ability of your taste buds? “Spicy foods can also cause damage to the taste buds hampering your sense of taste,” says Dr. Chattoo. Your spicy foods may be causing your taste irreparable damage.
Physical therapist Karena Wu from ActiveCare Physical Therapy treats her rheumatoid arthritis with spicy foods’ anti-inflammatory properties. She claims that spicy foods “help with pain and healing by increasing blood flow to an affected area.”
Using spicy foods in recipes gets the active ingredient (capsaicin) working to fight autoimmune disorders, Parkinson’s and even asthma. Dr. Chattoo suggests “finding spicy foods with the highest concentration of capsaicin is key. For example, raw chopped peppers would be very high in capsaicin and potentially the most beneficial.”
Spicy food also kills stomach bacteria. Not only are peppers antibacterial but they also help prevent future infections.
Eye Warned You
The unwanted but ever-present side effect of cutting peppers happens when you touch your eye. “You should be careful not to touch your eyes if handling anything spicy and you may not realize it, but even after hand washing it may still be on your skin. To be safe you may want to wear gloves and take them off and discard them immediately after preparing the pepper,” warns Kasindorf.
Spicy food “can heat up your body when it’s cold out and, surprisingly, can cool your body off when you are hot. Eating spicy food makes you sweat and sweating actually helps your body temperature regulate itself. So while it may seem strange, definitely put more heat on your food when the heat is on,” says Elizabeth.
A Bad Burn
You may end up with a burnt tongue, a burning sensation in your mouth, or worse. “Spicy food can also cause heartburn and/or reflux disease. The reason being: its acidic and irritant properties can cause a rather unwanted effect once it hits your insides,” says Chattoo
Kasindorf suggests pairing spicy food with raw or cooked veggies to lessen the internal burn.
There you have it: The good and bad of eating spicy foods. For me the added taste and sensation from adding a good hot sauce or cooking with spicy peppers outweighs the bad. Although I know how very subjective this is.