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More hot research!
I reported last year on a study that evaluated the effect of eating chilies on blood sugar levels and metabolism [this page]. Unfortunately, that study's results suggested only that the amount of insulin needed to control a person's blood sugar might be decreased after eating a meal containing chilies, but that the amount of energy the person burned - their basal metabolism - was unaffected.
Dieting? Spicy Foods May Help
It sure seems like it ought to be true: when you eat spicy foods, you might feel warm and break out into a sweat, just as you would if you were exercising. Unfortunately, what research there is into the metabolic effects of eating capsaicin (the substance responsible for the spiciness in chilies) showed no effect on a person's resting metabolic rate.
At nearly every lecture I give about eating healthy, somebody asks about snacks. Although there's no scientific evidence that eating more frequently speeds up one's metabolism, people seem to have bought in to the idea, and so snacking, at least among my patients, has become the norm. The problem is that it sounds plausible: if it's true that your metabolism slows when you go without food overnight (actually true), then eating more frequently would speed it up, right?
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There has been research that indicates eating meals spiced with chilies increases fat burning as well as the amount of energy used by the body. Researchers have felt that this might be an approach to fighting obesity, and in an interesting study reported in this month's American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2006;84(1):63-69), a group of 36 volunteers agreed to eat chilies for the advancement of science.
Over two 4-week periods they ate either a bland meal or a chili-containing meal. The meals with chilies were standardized to contain 30 grams per day of freshly chopped chilies. This amount was arrived at after taste tests to determine how much would be palatable for the average eater. The bland meal consisted of a hamburger patty and bread.
At day 22 of the bland diet the participants would eat a bland meal and tests of blood glucose, insulin and energy expenditure were performed. The same tests were taken again at the end of the month, but after they had had a chili containing meal. In the group eating chilies every day, testing was performed after a chili containing meal only on day 29.
There really wasn't very much difference between the two groups, with the blood sugar and energy burned being pretty much the same. The amount of insulin needed to control blood sugars after meals appeared to be reduced in participants after the month of eating chili meals. This could be significant because high spikes of insulin may be associated with developing heart disease. Interestingly, there seemed to be more of an effect in those with a higher Body Mass Index.
This is research that has a long way to go and there are a number of considerations, including the question of how much chili is enough? The effects are small enough that this doesn't seem a practical way to help control weight. That said, I love spicy food and it's a good way by itself to eat lower calorie foods. Try Blackened Redfish, Steamed Clams with Spicy Tomato Broth, or Shrimp Fra Diavolo.
First posted: July 14, 2006