Capsaicin, which is the chemical that makes peppers and chillies hot, might encourage your body to use more fat as fuel, as well as boosting energy expenditure or burning calories. An appetiser that contains capsaicin may also cause you to eat fewer total calories during your meal, and it may also decrease your intake of fat.
The link between hot food such as spicy peppers (or the capsaicin they contain) and weight loss is nothing new. It’s been suggested for a good while that consuming food that contains capsaicin or adding it to your diet could help you lose weight by boosting thermogenesis, or the rate at which your body burns fat. But a number of studies over the past five years have given credibility to these suggestions, pushing capsaicin right to the top of any calorie-counter’s shopping list.
One such recent study was a small trial that investigated what effects cayenne pepper had on appetite, energy expenditure and body temperature. The study made use of regular doses that people might be likely to consume, and it found that 1g of pepper reduced participants’ cravings for sweet, salty and fatty foods whilst at the same time increasing their energy expenditure. The study noted that the effect could be seen to a greater degree among those participants that ordinarily would not consume spicy peppers, in contrast with the others who ate spicy peppers regularly.
In an earlier study reported in 2010, researchers from the University of California Los Angeles tested a compound related to capsaicin called dihydrocapsiate or DCT, which is not spicy hot like jalapenos. They wanted to see if the pepper-like compound, by heating up the body, could translate to better calorie and fat burning.
The results were promising: “DCT caused an increase in calories burned after a test meal,” the study author David Heber, MD, PhD, founding director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition told one website. The boost was modest however, translating to about 100 extra calories a day for a 110-pound woman and 200 extra calories for a 200-pound man, he said. Fat burning increased a bit too. The scientists in this study found that the capsaicin actually worked to lessen the effects of dietary fat, up-regulating some genes and down-regulating others to buffer the fats. They concluded: “capsaicin can have a significant inhibitory effect against fat accumulation.”
In another study reported in GreenMedInfo that used rats divided into three groups, one received a normal diet, another had a high-fat diet supplemented by capsaicin, and the third with a high-fat diet without capsaicin. After two months, the rats were evaluated. All three groups of rats in the study had gained weight. However, the rats who received capsaicin with the high-fat diet, gained 8 percent less than the rats that hadn’t received the capsaicin. Those which were given capsaicin hardly gained any more than the rats who were on a completely normal diet.
Other research has been published in the Journal of Digestive Diseases and Sciences, in which the authors revealed that capsaicin could be a natural method of combating obesity that is nearly as effective as intensive surgeries — and of course, capsaicin has far less complications and risks.
So capsaicin is an effective fat burner – but what else is it good for? Capsaicin has also been shown to reduce cholesterol levels and support heart health. Meals that contain capsaicin can have a positive effect on blood sugar, helping diabetics take less insulin following a meal. Additionally, capsaicin’s anti-inflammatory properties can relieve arthritis joint pain, and even slow the spread of certain types of cancer.
Another effect of capsaicin is that it can help flush mucus from your nose and lungs so it’s good to eat spicy foods when you’re feeling under the weather with a cold or the flu. It can clear congestion and help keep the mucous membranes from getting infected.
Foods that contain capsaicin
Capsaicin is contained in peppers produced by certain pepper plants (Capsicum frutescens), including varieties called cayenne, green or red chili, spur or tabasco peppers, which contain especially high amounts of capsaicin.
Other types of peppers, generally called sweet peppers because they aren’t hot or spicy, also contain capsaicin. Their content of the chemical is lower than in hot peppers, but they nevertheless are a good source of capsaicin when consumed regularly. Sweet peppers are produced by a pepper plant (Capsicum annum) that’s different from the one that produces spicy peppers. These peppers are generally called bell, cherry, cone, green or paprika peppers, depending on the specific plant cultivar that produces them.
Ginger root (Zingiber officinale) also contains capsaicin but only in trace amounts.