Good news for all you spicy-food lovers out there. A new study in the British Medical Journal suggests that incorporating smoking hot, fiery ingredients, like chili peppers or jalapeños, into your meals are doing more than just making them taste delicious. They're adding years to your life!"Studies have shown that specifically, the bioactive ingredient, capsaicin contains health benefits including cancer prevention, blood pressure improvement, appetite suppression, and gastrointestinal and cardiovascular improvements," says Christy Wilson, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in Tucson, Arizona. Capsaicin is the active component found in chili peppers, which is responsible for making them hot. "Capsaicin also has anti-inflammatory and vasodilator properties that promote healthy blood flow."
The study published in the British Medical Journal found that consuming spicy foods six to seven times a week helped reduced the risk of death by 14 percent. But before you start drenching your lunch and dinner in hot sauce, check out the health benefits for a few spices below, along with Wilson's tips on how you can easily incorporate them into your meals.
Jalapeños: According to Wilson, jalapeños — like a lot of other peppers — contain capsaicin, are rich in vitamin C, vitamin A (which keeps our skin and eyes healthy), and are loaded with antioxidant benefits that help prevent damage from free radicals that can potentially cause cancer. "Try adding diced jalapeños to your fresh salsas, beans, or as a topping to nachos and tacos," she suggests.
Chili peppers: "One-half cup of fresh red or green chili peppers provides three times your daily requirement for vitamin C, which is a potent antioxidant that is required for collagen synthesis and helps boost our immune system," says Wilson. She suggests roasting chili peppers and adding them to stir frys, salsas, slow cooked meat or chicken dishes. Studies have found that chilli peppers also help lower high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and can protect you from heart disease.
Cayenne Pepper: Cayenne pepper does a lot more than just add serious heat to your food. Like other deeply pigmented chilies, it contains high amounts of capsaicin, vitamin A, and vitamin C. "Cayenne pepper can promote cardiovascular health, suppress appetite, and mildly rev-up the body's ability to burn fat. It has also been shown to prevent ulcers and drain clogged nasal passages," she says. Add it to your pot of chili, soups, stews, and beans.
Turmeric: "This bright yellow spice has been used medicinally for thousands of years in the Chinese and Indian cultures as an anti-inflammatory agent to treat arthritis, heartburn, among other ailments," says Wilson. "The curcumin in turmeric is what gives the spice its bright yellow hue and is what is mainly responsible for some of its suggested health benefits." Add this dried spice to slow-cooked meat dishes, rice dishes, roasted vegetables, or to egg scrambles and omelets.
Cumin: A popular one among Latinos is cumin, a spice that gives food a smoky flavor without having to use heat. Wilson suggests purchasing it in its ground form rather than the seeds because it's a lot easier to cook that way. "Cumin decreases hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and glycosuria (glucose in the urine), which are both conditions common in folks with diabetes," she says. Studies show that it also helps with upset stomach issues and contains magnesium and iron which helps regulate blood pressure and transport oxygen throughout the body. Try adding it to your soups, meats, and chili. Wilson loves adding it to this delicious Mexican rice recipe.