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It's easy to get answers about health and nutrition! Just send your question by email to askdrgourmet@drgourmet.com and Dr. Harlan will respond to selected questions of general interest. Answers will be posted in the Ask Dr. Gourmet newsletter (sign up now!) and archived in the Ask Dr. Gourmet section of the website.

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Ask Dr. Gourmet



Are there benefits to eating spicy foods?

I like hot peppery foods like Mexican, Indian, Szechuan, etc., and wonder if there is any advantage or disadvantage to them.

Dr. Gourmet Says...

Red Peppers

It would be great if eating spicy foods sped up your metabolism, wouldn't it? Unfortunately, the research we have just doesn't support the idea, although there might be other benefits to eating chilis.

A study done in 2006 suggested that eating regular meals containing chilis would help manage blood sugar levels, especially in those with a higher Body Mass Index. The effects were small, as was the study, so we could only conclude that eating spicy foods certainly couldn't hurt if you were working to lose weight.

A year later, however, an even better-designed study involved people eating a standardized amount of capsaicin (the ingredient in chilis that accounts for its spiciness) or a bland diet and having their basal metabolism measured. This showed much more clearly that eating spicy foods will not raise your metabolism.

Interestingly, another study focused on capsaicin's ability to block pain receptors when used topically (as in arthritis creams). Those with GERD who ate regular amounts of chilis had the pain receptors in their stomach and esophagus desensitized in much the same way as with the topical creams. I certainly wouldn't suggest that those with GERD start eating chilis, but it's certainly interesting research.

Spicy foods such as you mention don't appear to have any further benefits than tasting great. Here are some spicy recipes to make at home:

Kung Pao Beef | GERD / Acid Reflux-Friendly Version
Chicken Mole
Jerk Chicken Thighs
Seared Tuna with Wasabi-Mango Salsa
Red Beans and Rice

Thanks for writing,

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP
Dr. Gourmet