Forget kale, chia seeds, and EVOO—the secret to living a long-ass life might just be found inside your Chipotle burrito. Yes, really. Consuming red hot chili peppers (no, not the band—the kind used to make sriracha) might lead to a reduced risk of mortality, according to a new study published in PLoS ONE.
Researchers looked at the data from more than 16,000 people in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) from 1988 to 1994. They found that adults who consumed hot red chili peppers (not the dried, ground kind) at least once in the last month had a 13 percent lower mortality risk, compared to those who didn't report eating hot peppers.
The researchers didn't closely monitor the type or portion size of the hot pepper the people consumed, or exactly how often they ate them, so you have to take the findings with a grain of salt. The good news, though, is that this isn't the first time science showed that there are longevity benefits to adding fire to your food. In a study of 500,000 people over four years, those who ate spicy foods at least one day a week reduced their mortality risk by 10 percent, while people who ate it three to seven days a week reduced their risk by 15 percent. (Which makes it one of the top 10 healthy foods to lengthen your life.)
So, why might spice be the secret to a longer life? The researchers have a few different ideas. Capsaicin (the principal component in chili peppers) may activate cellular mechanisms involved in fat metabolism and thermogenesis (turning food into energy), which help work against obesity. Reduced obesity risk then leads to decreased risks of cardiovascular, metabolic, and lung diseases (the first, seventh, and third causes of death in the United States, respectively, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Capsaicin may also have antimicrobial effects on your gut. And if that's not enough, hot red chili peppers also contain other nutrients like B vitamins, vitamin C, and pro-A, which may partly account for its protective effect, according to the study.
Science also shows that spicy foods might help boost weight loss by turning white fat into brown fat. They may also lower bad cholesterol and even help rev your metabolism. Have an annoying winter cold or allergies? Chili peppers can help clear your sinuses! So, yeah, you really don't have an excuse not to light up your food with a little spicy flavor. (BAM—here are some hot sauce hacks for sneaking spice into all your meals.)
Lucky for all of us, Beyoncé officially made it cool to carry hot sauce around in your bag. Now, you can do it in the name of ~health~ and not just to up your cool factor.