Many people have a love–hate relationship with spicy foods. Whether you’re in the for or against camp, spicy foods can have both positive and negative effects on your body – sometimes simultaneously.
Let’s begin with the pros of eating spicy foods.
You’ll live longer and look younger
There have been studies that show spicy foods can help you live longer. One such study, involving 500,000 people surveyed by Harvard and Peking university researchers, found that people who eat spicy foods each day actually reduce their risk of premature death by 14 per cent compared with those who only eat spicy meals once per week.
New York gastroenterologist Dr Prem Chattoo believes that spicy foods can also help slow down the ageing process, because of the increased blood flow throughout the body. This means your skin will look and feel more youthful.
Reduces the risk of tumours
Capsaicin, a chemical compound found in chilli peppers, has excellent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and has also been known to help suppress the growth of human prostate cancer. It has also shown promise in fighting breast, pancreatic and bladder cancer, but you may need to eat eight habanero peppers per week to enjoy that benefit.
Spicy foods, specifically those that contain chilli peppers, are packed with vitamins A and C amongst others, as well as antioxidants that help boost your immune system and fight off colds. The added heat from spicy food improves blood flow and increases circulation, which can assist in preventing heart disease by improving cardiac blood vessel strength, and its antibacterial properties can also help promote healing. The anti-inflammatory properties in chilli also ease the symptoms of arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
It’s good for your sex life
Chilli peppers relax your arteries and increases blood flow to your, ahem, downstairs region. Other spices such as ginseng and saffron are also great for improved sex life – they’re an aphrodisiac of sorts. Ginseng, especially, can help boost your performance between the sheets.
It’s a brilliant brain booster
The antioxidants in spicy foods may help to boost your brainpower. Herbs and spices such as ginger, cinnamon, basil, parsley and vanilla have also been the subject of many brain- and memory-related studies. A recent study by Swinburne University of Technology also found that the spice extract curcumin, which is found in turmeric, could be linked to remarkable improvements in levels of fatigue and memory.
Now let’s have a look at the cons of consuming spicy foods.
Makes you sweat
Okay, so this one isn’t all bad, but the capsaicin in spicy foods really heats up your body, which will most likely make you sweaty. Now, that may not look great in a meeting with friends, but if it’s hot outside, raising your body temperature to match the outside temperature (i.e. the weather) may actually make you feel cooler. Ever wondered why countries such as Mexico and India eat so much spicy food? Well, now you have the answer.
Not the best for heartburn
If you suffer from heartburn, reflux or stomach ulcers, you may want to lay off the chilli. But if you’re one to forego the short-term comfort of feeling like you can keep your food down for the long-term benefits of eating spicy foods, then you can offset your reflux with a side of cooked or raw vegetables, yoghurt or sour cream. That’s why the Indians drink lassi (a yoghurt-based drink) after their curry, and why sour cream goes so well with Mexican foods.
Curtails your tastebuds
If you eat spicy foods all the time, chances are that, after a while, you’ll keep wanting your food spicier and spicier with each meal. That’s because eating spicy foods deadens your tastebuds. And if you keep on making your food spicier just so you get that ‘deep burn’, you may find you do more harm than good, especially when you consider the next point.
Irritates your stomach
Capsaicin may sound as if it’s a wonder foodstuff, but it does have a downside too. The major factor against capsaicin is that it can be a brutal irritant if overeaten, or if the peppers you are eating are just too hot for your constitution. Spicy foods do have a tendency to do damage to the lining of your stomach, and can irritate ulcers, or even cause them. This irritation can also lead to gastritis or other intestinal disorders.
Things can get ‘a bit runny’
No one wants to talk about what comes out the other end, so we’ll go into very little detail, partly because most people will have had this ‘experience’ with hot foods. Yes, spicy foods can cause diarrhoea, they can also cause irritable bowel syndrome and they can even exacerbate haemorrhoids – or just make your back alley a bit ‘burn-y’. Let’s leave it there, shall we?
So, eaten responsibly, spicy foods have some far-reaching health benefits that should not be discounted. In fact, looking back over this piece, I’d say the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks, but that’s for you and your doctor, dietician or nutritionist to decide.
Do you enjoy spicy foods? What’s your favourite spicy dish? Now that you know of the benefits of eating spicy foods, will you eat more?