There are few things in the food world that evoke stronger opinions than spice. Do you go for the mild salsa, the medium, or the three-alarm hot version? Fortunately for people who do love spice (and not just the fiery spice from capsaicin found in chili peppers), science is in your favor. Spices like cinnamon, turmeric, garlic, ginger, and cumin, as well as chili, host many health benefits.
If you’re an agnostic or simply don’t like the heat, here are five compelling reasons to reconsider adding a little spice to your day.
1. Spicy food has longevity benefits
Eating spicy food six or seven days a week — even just once a day — lowered mortality rates by 14 percent, according to a large 2015 study by Harvard and China National Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (Sadly, the benefits are even larger if you skip the margarita or Corona with your spicy taco.)
2. Spicy food speeds up your metabolism
Data across numerous studies indicates that certain spices — like cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, peppers, and chilies — can raise your metabolic resting rate and slow down your appetite. One study also found that turmeric suppressed fat tissue growth in mice.
The effect is mild, so putting cinnamon on your roll probably isn’t going to aid in weight loss. But if you’ve reached a plateau in your weight loss journey, spicing it up may be just the thing to try.
3. Spices combat inflammation
Curcumin, a compound in turmeric, may reduce inflammation in the body. In Ayurvedic medicine, the anti-inflammatory properties of ginger and garlic have been used for centuries to treat a range of conditions, like arthritis, autoimmune disorders, and even headaches and nausea.
4. Spices may even help fight cancer cells
Capsaicin, an active component of chili peppers, has been shown to slow and destroy cancer cells. A UCLA study found that capsaicin inhibited the growth of prostate cancer cells in mice while leaving healthy cells unharmed.
5. Spices help kill bacteria
Cumin and turmeric have been shown to have powerful antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. This means they can be used against harmful bacteria in the body.
Recipes to spice up your life
Ready to get in on the benefits of spicy food and rev up your health? Try out the fiery recipes below.
Spicy Avocado Toast with Egg
If you’re looking for an easy, everyday spicy meal substitute, look no further than this insane spicy avocado toast with egg from Isabel Eats.
Cinnamon Spice Pepitas
Combining spice, protein, and healthy fats is key for healthy snacking. So why not try this simple and sweet cinnamon spice pepitas recipe from Spoonful of Flavor?
Lemon Ginger Turmeric Iced Tea
When you’re dealing with illness, the last thing you want to do is spend a lot of time in the kitchen or eat a heavy meal. Sip on this refreshing and delicious lemon ginger turmeric iced tea instead, courtesy of the Unconventional Baker.
The next time you’re feeling under the weather — or if you just need a butt-kicking side dish to your main fare — try this cumin rice recipe from Budget Bytes. Flavorful and mild to sensitive stomachs, it’s also a total bargain. Win!
Word of caution
Capsaicin, the fiery substance found in chili peppers, can elicit intense short-term symptoms, like stomach pain, diarrhea, and vomiting in those who consume extreme amounts. This occurs due to overstimulation of the nervous system. The good news is no permanent damage is done to the intestinal lining.
Though it was previously believed that spicy foods could lead to ulcers, current evidence now confirms that capsaicin provides protection against the ulcer pathogen, H. pylori. Capsaicin also acts as a pain reliever when applied topically or ingested. That said, if you’re new to eating spicy foods, increase your intake slowly to minimize undesirable symptoms.
No matter if you lean sweet or savory, spices can be incorporated into any diet. The result is a satisfying and healthy addition. They can even increase two feel-good chemicals in the body — endorphins and dopamine. This may just explain that spicy food craving you can’t kick. Spices can also help you cut down on the amount of unhealthy fats and sweets that are too easily added as a quick fix for taste.
In short, ditch the sugar and add some spice to improve and extend your lifestyle and culinary horizons.
Lindsey Dodge Gudritz is a writer and mom. She lives with her on-the-move family in Michigan (for now). She has been published in The Huffington Post, the Detroit News, Sex and the State, and the Independent Women’s Forum blog. Her family blog can be found at Putting on The Gudritz.