Some of us like it hot. Others, like Philly’s Tracey M. Lewis-Giggetts, like it
really hot. The 43-year-old writer, professor and mother puts hot sauce on fish, chicken, potatoes, greens and more. “Most meats and some veggies deserve a little kick,” she says. Chili peppers — the seasoning that makes everything from hot wings to collard greens
fiyah — also helps your body burn calories and fight disease. Check out what pepper power can do for you, then consider adding them — raw, cooked, dried or in your favorite hot sauce — to your daily dietary rotation. Maybe even keep a little heat in your handbag for that Beyoncé swag. (And
yes, we all know her line about hot sauce in “Formation” actually refers to a baseball bat, but that’s not so slammin’ on salmon, is it?)
- Jump-start your immune system: The chili pepper is a vitamin bomb, full of immune boosting antioxidants, including folic acid and vitamins A, E and C. The high levels of antioxidants in chili peppers have a positive impact on brain and heart health and improves insulin, cholesterol, and other factors that affect the cardiovascular system, says Raquel Garzon, a registered dietician and nutrition and wellness specialist at New Mexico State University.
- Rev up your relaxation response: When the heat from the pepper hits your mouth, the body reacts by releasing endorphins — hormones that can block the body’s sensation of pain and create a sense of well being — to help cool you down. The endorphin high you get from eating a spicy curry is similar to the feeling you get after a nice session of sex. So, take the heat and then chill.
- Put pain on pause: Studies have shown that the compound capsaicin, the active ingredient in chilis that gives them their heat, is a powerful anti-inflammatory that can provide relief for pain caused by inflammation, particularly arthritis pain. No, you don’t need to slather on the sriracha to get the benefit, just add it to your favorite stir-fry or dice a jalapeño in your next pot of chili con carne.
- Weight-loss winner: Initial studies indicate that chili peppers could be a powerful tool for weight loss. At a basic level, if your mouth is on fire, you probably don’t want to shove more food into it, but capsaicin has also been shown to suppress the appetite and boost the metabolism. That’s a win-win for weight loss. But be careful and read the labels on bottled hot sauce; some have added sugar that can sabotage any weight-loss goals.
- Increase your life span: A 2015 study found that people who ate spicy food at least three times a week reduced their mortality rates by 14 percent, compared to those who didn’t eat spicy food. Chili peppers truly are the spice of life.
If you have hypertension or otherwise need to watch your salt intake, check the nutrition labels of your favorite hot sauce. Many have added salt, with some popular brands boasting 200 mg per serving. To sidestep the added salt altogether, whip up your own batch of pepper vinegar by filling a bottle with chili peppers and adding hot vinegar until the chilies are submerged. Store the sealed bottle until the flavor mellows to your desired level of heat, then enjoy!