Spice It Up!

Rumor has it that red hot chili peppers can help you lose weight.

Bite into a hot pepper, or chilis, and you'll instantly feel the 'flame effect.' But can these fiery fruits actually boost your metabolism and promote weight loss?

To a degree, the scientific answer is yes, but they're no magic pill.

Chilies get their heat from an oily chemical compound called capsaicin, which is concentrated in the membrane surrounding the seeds of the Capsicum plant. In studies, Capsaicin boosts thermogenesis - the process by which the body turns calories into heat to use for fuel. However, the effect on weight loss is modest, at best. Here's why:

Given the pungency of peppers, it's difficult for anyone, even a person with a great tolerance for spicy foods, to eat hot peppers often enough and in a sufficient enough serving to lose weight via the 'chili pepper effect.'

Even though we can't eat enough hot peppers to result in weight loss, including chilies in your diet promotes good health in other ways. Chilies are rich in vitamins A, E and K and potassium. Additionally, in scientific studies capsaicin (in capsule form) has been shown to help reduce pain and inflammation, boost immunity, lower the risk for Type 2 Diabetes, and clear congestion associated with colds.

Caution: Biting into a raw or cooked chili pepper creates an intense heat inside the mouth (the flame effect). If that happens to you, drink milk or eat cottage cheese or plain yogurt to tame the heat. Also, if you're not accustomed to eating chilis your throat may swell and your body may react to the peppers and cause you to vomit. Some people have a sensitivity to nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, white potatoes, etc.) which can cause joint pain and inflammation, so proceed with caution and listen to your body.

The Hottest of the Hot

The Scoville scale measures the heat of chili peppers. The following list shows chilis in the order of their Scoville Heat Units, from high heat to modest heat:

  • Habaneros and Scotch bonnets
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Tabasco pepper
  • Thai chili pepper
  • Jalapeno and Serrano chili peppers

Hot Tip: If you can't remember which are the hottest of the hot peppers, look at the thickness of the stem. The thinner the stem, the hotter the pepper (and higher the capsaicin), and red peppers are hotter than green.

Cayenne (Capsicum annuum)

A popular ingredient for giving a kick to salsa and other dishes, Cayenne has numerous health benefits including reducing blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, reducing pain and inflammation, providing relief for heartburn, moderating blood sugar level, and helping to break down carbohydrates during digestion. All of that is due to a potent chemical, capsaicin, found in the thin skin surrounding the seeds.

Cayenne (capsaicin) supplements have been studied for their ability to curb appetite, increase resting metabolic rate (turn-up your metabolism), and stimulate the breakdown of fats for energy. Short-term studies (12 weeks or less) with athletes, individuals who are of average weight, and those who are obese have shown cayenne does raise metabolism by about an extra 50 calories burned per day. In one to two years, if you did nothing else special with your diet and exercise routine, you'd lose a little weight.

Other studies have looked at different amounts of capsaicin taken and how it is prescribed (ex., taken before, during or after a meal) plus a person's general health status. Capsaicin has an affect on how full a person feels (satiety) before, during, and after a meal as well as food choices people make. (The latter, scientists think, has to do with how cayenne supplements are digested). The amount of capsaicin taken, to a certain point, also affects the amount of change in metabolism and the effect on appetite. A holistic health practitioner can best determine the amount of capsaicin that will help you with your weight loss or other health goals.

A capsaicin supplement is a great way to support your metabolism when you are trying to lose weight but it's not a "miracle diet pill." You still need to follow an overall healthy diet and follow a fitness program consistently.

Chili Pepper References

Cayenne References