pepperGrowing up, I was never one for spicy foods. In fact, up until a couple of years ago, they used to make me pretty ill.  However, I had been hearing all of the great benefits of spicy foods in your diet, so I started small by adding just a dash here and there and now I try to add something spicy into most every meal. Whether I have built up a tolerance or I have just found the right level of heat for me, I don’t know. But what I do know is that the added benefits of spicy foods are what keep bringing me back.

Like me, you may have heard that things with spice made you skinny, but as with many other ‘miracle’ foods, supplements or what-have-you, I thought that it was too good to be true.  And while it isn’t true that spicy foods alone will make you lose weight, it turns out there is actual evidence that spicy foods do have natural health benefits such as: increased metabolism, appetite suppression, and endorphin production. All of these benefits aid in weight loss– as long as you are exercising as well.

The key to this ‘fire’ in your belly is Capsaicin. What is that exactly?  Simply stated, Capsaicin is the active component found in chili peppers. When concentrated, it is an irritant to any mucus membrane with which it has contact. This is why the seeds of any pepper in the Capsicum family are so much more potent than the flesh.  Different varieties have varying levels of heat, which are measured on the Scoville Scale. Peppers that are red are the hottest and those that are green are milder. You may have heard of Capsaicin used as a topical pain relief as well or seen Capsaicin patches on the shelf of your local drug store.

In foods, Capsaicin generates heat. This heat within the body, which is generally caused by exercising, increases your metabolism. The higher the your metabolism the more calories you burn. Another great benefit of spicy foods is the release of endorphins. Endorphins give you a sense of well being.  There have also been studies that show having spicy foods at the beginning of a meal caused subjects to eat less overall.

One should use caution when choosing spice to add to your meal. Hotter certainly is better, but learn what you can tolerate. The spicier the pepper the more chance you have for irritation. Always use gloves when handling the hotter peppers and wash hands thoroughly before touching the eyes. You certainly wouldn’t want to irritate the eyes, mouth, throat or stomach as it defeats the purpose and certainly isn’t going to release any of those endorphins. Some common spices that are tolerable, but effective are red pepper flakes, cayenne or chili powder, jalapenos, hot sauces (red is hotter than green).

Now I’m sure you aren’t reading this and thinking its is a cue to sit on your couch and stuff your face full of jalapeno-topped nachos, right? Just think of adding a little spice to your daily diet as a natural ‘booster’ to your health and wellness plan and see the benefits unfold. Bring on the heat!

Jessica Kuiken is a Los Angeles based Certified Pilates Instructor. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter

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