Are you a big fan of spicy food? If so, you'll be happy to know that the "kick" often comes from some variety of chili pepper — an ingredient rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. So there are definitely some health benefits.
But here's the question: can spicy food help you burn fat and get in shape, or is that just an old wives tale? Let's put down the pepper mill for a second and find out:
How Does It Work?
Chili peppers get their intense heat from an ingredient called capsaicin — a chemical compound found in all pepper varieties. It's formed in the glands of the pepper and is meant to act as a deterrent to would-be predators, which is why chili burns your tongue and causes you to break out in sweats.
The hotter the pepper, the more capsaicin it contains. Ever eaten a jalapeño? Those are pretty hot, but some African and Asian varieties can have 10-20 times the concentration of capsaicin (and therefore, heat). The mighty habanero is even hotter, with up to 50-60 times the heat of a single jalapeño!
When you ingest capsaicin, it raises your body temperature and temporarily boosts your metabolism. It can also blunt your appetite for a while after eating, and the hotter the food, the more pronounced the effects. All of this has given rise to the theory that spicy food can help with weight loss — it revs your engine, so it must help burn fat, right?
Will It Really Help Me Lose Weight?
The truth is, we don't really know. There haven't been many controlled, clinical studies looking at the weight loss effects of ingesting capsaicin, so there's not much more than anecdotal evidence to go on at the moment. Until science weighs in conclusively on the subject, we're more or less poking around in the dark.
However, a recent study from the University of Wyoming showed that capsaicin could at least prevent you from gaining weight. Researchers added the compound to the diets of overfed lab-mice, and found that the intervention effectively blunted any expected weight gain. The mice showed an increase in metabolic activity and energy expenditure, which is exactly what you're looking for if you want to burn off some fat.
This is definitely progress, and would seem to confirm the link between capsaicin and weight loss. But other research suggests that the metabolic effect might not be statistically significant, and that it becomes less pronounced in people who eat spicy foods often and have developed a tolerance.
While the research is still inconclusive, there's just enough evidence to indicate that adding spices to your food can help with weight loss to some degree. It's not gonna be a magic bullet though — for sustainable weight loss you need to follow a balanced, low-GL diet, which can be tailored to suit your preferences (whether you like spicy food or not).
Want to know the right foods to eat to burn fat? Request a free consultation here at our Personal Training Studio in Ranelagh and we'll help you improve your nutrition.