- Eating spicy food regularly can boost your metabolism by increasing your heart rate and warming the body.
- Spicy food may also reduce inflammation in the gut, preventing damage to the GI tract like ulcers.
- If you aren’t used to eating spicy food, you should build your tolerance slowly, as it may cause diarrhea and abdominal cramping for some people.
- This article was medically reviewed by Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, nutrition and wellness expert with a private practice based in New York City.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
Not everyone enjoys eating spicy food, but if you like your meal with a little kick, you’re in luck. Spicy foods offer many health benefits, like a faster metabolism, improved heart health, and even longer life expectancy.
Here’s what you need to know about why spicy food is good for you and any risks associated with consuming spicy food.
1. Spicy food boosts your metabolism
Spicy foods can boost metabolism by increasing your heart rate and producing heat in the body, causing you to burn more calories, says Amy Shapiro, a registered dietitian and founder of Real Nutrition, a private nutrition consulting practice.
What does metabolism do and how it determines the calories you burn
Metabolism is the process by which your body converts food to energy. The faster your metabolism, the more calories you burn, and the more food you can consume without gaining weight.
The spicy chemical compound capsaicin — found in chili peppers like jalapeño, cayenne, and habanero — offers many benefits for metabolic health. In fact, a 2012 review of 20 research studies found that capsaicin can help your body burn about 50 extra calories a day. The researchers concluded that this could result in significant levels of weight loss over the course of one or two years, as part of a weight management program.
The review also found that capsaicin can act as an appetite suppressant, making you feel more full and consume fewer calories overall. Food sources of capsaicin may not be enough to fully experience these benefits, though. For example, another study found that capsaicin supplementation of 6mg a day was associated with fat loss.
“Although sprinkling spices on your salad for one meal won’t move the needle, consistently using spices in your daily intake can increase metabolism,” Shapiro says.
2. Spicy food improves heart health
Spicy foods may also improve overall heart health. Studies have found that spicy foods increase circulation and lower blood pressure. They do this by stimulating the release of compounds that expand blood vessels, Shapiro says. Capsaicin in particular also decreases inflammation, which has been shown to be a risk factor for heart disease.
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Spicy foods can also lower your cholesterol, which improves your heart health and reduces your risk of
. A small 2017 study found that participants who took two 4mg capsules of capsaicin a day for three months had improvements in blood cholesterol levels compared to the control group.
Another very large 2017 study out of the University of Vermont examined the connection between heart health and consumption of red hot chili peppers over six years. It found a 13% lower incidence of death from causes, such as heart disease or stroke among participants who consumed the peppers.
3. Spicy food reduces inflammation in the gut
Many people think spicy food causes stomach pain, but research shows capsaicin may actually increase blood flow to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and protect against the formation of ulcers, Shapiro says. A 2006 study found capsaicin may increase blood flow to the lining of the GI tract and protect it from damage.
These benefits are especially helpful for anyone with irritable bowel disease (IBD), like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, which are associated with inflammation, Shapiro says. However, it’s important to discuss with your doctor and see how you react to spicy food before using it to treat your symptoms.
4. Spicy food may increase your life expectancy
A large 2015 population study among Chinese adults found that those who consumed spicy foods almost every day had a 14% lower risk of premature death than those who consumed it once per week.
“This is likely due to its anti-inflammatory effect, improved heart health, and decreased obesity,” Shapiro says.
Additionally, the same 2017 study from the University of Vermont found similar findings of life expectancy in the US, Wright says. But overall, it’s important to remember that spicy foods are not a magic wand for health and should be paired with a healthy diet and a consistent exercise routine.
“Other lifestyle factors need to be considered,” Wright says. “Adding spicy foods or ingredients to a healthy, well-balanced diet would be the way to go.”
5. Spicy food relieves some pain
Not only can eating spicy foods improve your health, but the topical application of lotions derived from spicy foods can also help relieve pain.
“Topical forms of capsaicin help to block messages to your nerves so it helps to decrease the sensation of pain,” Shapiro says. “It may also relieve pain from nerve damage, or other skin conditions.”
A 2011 study found that a 60-minute application of a high-concentration patch containing 8% capsaicin provided effective pain relief in patients with neuropathic (nerve) pain for up to 12 weeks.
Topical applications of capsaicin may also provide pain relief to people with:
- Muscle injuries
You can purchase lotions made with capsaicin over-the-counter at most drugstores, or talk with your doctor about prescription capsaicin cream.
Risks associated with spicy foods
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Spicy foods offer many health benefits, but they may not be for everyone. For example, spicy foods can trigger symptoms for people with certain gastrointestinal issues, like gastroesophageal reflux disease (acid reflux).
Hot peppers that contain capsaicin can also burn your eyes or face. Therefore, it’s best to wear gloves when handling them. Additionally, consuming too much spicy food can cause abdominal pain and diarrhea, so if you aren’t used to eating spicy foods often, start small to build up your tolerance.
The bottom line
Spicy foods offer many health benefits, like speeding up your metabolism and boosting heart health, but they can also exacerbate some health issues, like heartburn. If you aren’t used to eating spicy foods, start by eating small amounts and work on building your tolerance.
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