Not a fan of the hot stuff? It might be worth getting used to: A ton of new research says it’s good for your stomach—and may even ward off diseaseBy Celia Milne
Toronto gastroenterologist Dr. Khursheed Jeejeebhoy sees plenty of patients in his office who avoid hot chilies unnecessarily. “Whenever people have stomach problems, they’ll say, ‘I completely avoid spicy foods in order to heal my stomach.’ There is no evidence they have to do that. Spices in moderation are to be enjoyed, and there is no evidence that spicy food is bad for you,” says Jeejeebhoy, who is an emeritus professor of medicine at the University of Toronto.
In fact, there is a lot of evidence that it’s very good for you. Recent research tells us that hot chili peppers are an up-and-coming health power. A laboratory study in the United Kingdom, for instance, found that capsaicin, which is responsible for the burning sensation chilies provide, can kill lung and pancreatic cancer cells without harming the surrounding cells. Researchers believe this may explain why people living in Mexico and India, who eat a spicy diet, tend to have lower rates of some cancers than those eating a bland Western diet.
Two Australian studies provide more good news: One discovered that adding chilies to meals may protect against the buildup of cholesterol in the blood. Another found that regularly eating hot chilies reduces insulin requirements, which may have implications in the prevention and treatment of diabetes.
So what about their effects on the stomach? Hot chilies actually decrease the output of gastric acid, says a Hungarian study. They can also reduce the stomach bleeding associated with taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents such as Aspirin. A further bonus: A study in Singapore found that eating chilies daily reduced the risk of peptic ulcers by 53 percent.
And that burning sensation you get from hot food? It’s the capsaicin stimulating your nerve endings. “It’s a bad feeling,” says Jeejeebhoy, “but there’s no evidence that it produces a cut or causes an ulceration or injury of any sort in the gastrointestinal tract.” The best remedy to the burning sensation is to build up a tolerance, he says.
Biali calls chilies a “no-lose food” because they boost metabolism, help burn fat and keep us feeling full longer.
Susie Langley, a registered dietitian based in Toronto, loves to spice up meals with small amounts of hot chilies. She developed the following three recipes for Best Health readers, to help bring some healthy heat to your meals: