A new study from Purdue University brings a whole new meaning to the phrase 'fire in your belly.' According to the researchers, dousing your food with a little hot pepper can help you burn more calories and curb your cravings. Over a 6-week period the study tracked 25 adults who consumed either no pepper, their preferred amount (half liked spicy food and half did not), or a standardized amount, which was about a half tsp of cayenne. Overall both groups burned more calories when they downed the firey meals, and those who were infrequent eaters of spicy food also felt less hungry afterward and experienced fewer cravings for salty, fatty and sweet foods.

This isn’t the first study of its kind, which is why I included hot peppers as one of the 5 types of SASS (Slimming and Satiating Seasonings) in the weight loss plan in my newest book. You’ll find a little heat in meals like the Black Bean Tacos with Cilantro Jalapeno Guacamole, Shrimp Creole, and the Spicy Chipotle Truffles (yes, dark chocolate and hot pepper – one of my favorite combinations). And weight loss isn’t the only benefit to bolstering your meals with a little fire – hot peppers offer four other important health benefits:

They help clear congestion, which you’ve probably experienced firsthand. Capsaicin, the substance that gives a pepper its heat is similar to a compound found in many decongestants, and it works much faster. If you add a dash of cayenne pepper to a cup of hot tea it will help stimulate the mucus membranes that line your nasal passages to drain, to help you breathe easier.

They also boost immunity. Peppers are an excellent source of both vitamin C, which supports immunity, as well as vitamin A, which helps to form the mucous membranes in your nasal passages and digestive tract that act as a barrier to keep germs out of your body.

They also fight heart disease by lowering cholesterol and thinning the blood. And finally, contrary to popular belief, they help reduce the risk of ulcers. Many people think that hot peppers cause ulcers, but in fact the opposite is true. We now know that most ulcers are caused by bacteria, and hot peppers help kill those microbes.  

If you're a newbie to the pepper scene, consider starting with jalapenos, then working your way up to cayenne, then chili peppers, then habaneros. The heat a pepper packs is rated according to a scale called Scoville. Scoville heat units correspond to the amount of capsaicin. Jalapenos rate between 2,500 and 8,000, cayenne between 30,000 and 50,000, chili peppers can be 50,000 to 100,000 units and habaneros 100,000 to 350,000. That means that on average a habanero can be 40 times hotter than a jalapeno. Or if mild salsa is more your speed, stick with the most gentle varieties, like banana peppers, Anaheim and poblanos... any pepper will offer at least some benefits. 

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