Spicy foods and condiments like chili pepper flakes and hot sauce do more than heat up your meals. They also provide some pretty incredible fat-loss benefits! These benefits all come down to a natural plant chemical called capsaicin.
Capsaicin is the natural chemical in hot peppers, such as cayenne, that gives them such spicy heat. The heat is a product of how capsaicin reacts with receptors in the mouth. Researchers have even developed a unit to designate how hot specific peppers are, which really indicates how much capsaicin they contain. This unit is called the Scoville heat unit (SHU).
While a peperoncini is only a few hundred Scoville heat units, a Jalapeno pepper can be as high as 8,000. Habanero chili peppers can rate as high as 350,000 SHUs, with some of the world's hottest peppers coming in at close to 1,500,000! Law-enforcement-grade pepper spray is around 5 million SHUs.
Capsaicin has been studied extensively in the lab for its ability to aid fat loss. Capsaicin can disrupt energy production, causing the body to produce less energy and more heat. This means the body has to burn more calories to produce an equivalent amount of energy. Several studies confirm that capsaicin can enhance fat burning by raising metabolic rate, reducing hunger, and reducing food intake.
A recent study from Purdue University confirms this effect, even in people who are not overweight. The Purdue researchers gave subjects a meal containing about 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper, or a meal with no added pepper. They reported in a 2011 issue of Physiology & Behavior that when subjects ate the meal with red pepper, they experienced a boost in the number of calories they burned, but they also burned more calories from fat and experienced less hunger than when they ate the meal without added red pepper.
Consider adding 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper or chili pepper, or even fresh chili peppers, to your meals for a kick in the taste buds and the fat cells.
- Ludy, M. J. and Mattes, R. D. The effects of hedonically acceptable red pepper doses on thermogenesis and appetite Physiology & Behavior 102 (3-4): 251-258, 2011.