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Can Chilies Help you Burn Fat?

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When you’re aiming to strip fat, your diet is one of the most important aspects. The type of foods that you eat will determine whether or not you achieve your goals.

Chili peppers are a fiery addition to your food that can provide a number of benefits all year-round. It’s no real secret that eating hot food makes us feel warmer.

But could spicing up your diet help you to ramp up your fat loss? In this article we’ll take a look. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • What are chili peppers?
  • What are the health benefits?
  • Do hot peppers increase fat burning?

What are chilies?

Chili peppers are the fruits of the flowering genus chili plant, a small perennial shrub. They are well known for their fiery hotness and are a popular ingredient in spicy foods. Dependent on their species, the pepper develops into different sizes, colors and shapes.

The heat score of peppers can be measured using the ‘Scoville heat unit scale’ – this method categorizes the ‘pungency’ or heat of the pepper based on its capsaicin concentration. For example, the mildly spicy bell pepper scores 0, hot cayenne pepper scores 30,000-50,000 and the ridiculously spicy Naga Jolokia scores over 1 million. Other popular peppers include jalapenos, habaneros and scotch bonnet.

Capsaicin is a form of capsaicinoid – an alkaloid compound, and is the main active ingredient of the hot pepper. It is classed as an irritant due to its ability simulate ‘neurogenic inflammation‘ or burning sensation when it comes into contact with skin, mucus membranes or any other tissue.

The fruit of the plant can be eaten whole, as flakes, dried and powdered, eaten in sauces, or as an extract. They provide you with vitamin A and vitamin C – a potent antioxidant. They are also high in vitamin B6, copper and beta-carotene.

Although they can trigger painful sensations when eaten, many add hot peppers to curries and sauces. So called ‘chiliheads‘ – fans of hot foods, say this sensation can create a sense of pleasure and euphoria. Tolerance levels to capsaicin differ greatly from person to person.


Chili-Pepper-and-Health

Key Point: Chilis can be eaten whole, as flakes, dried and powdered, eaten in sauces, or as an extract. The main active compound of the hot pepper, capsaicin, gives it its variable spiciness.


What are the health benefits of the chili?

The capsaicin content of the food contains carotenoids that help to give peppers their bright color. This antioxidant has been found to reduce cancer risk, particularly prostate cancer [1]. Additionally, the high vitamin C content of carotenoids may help to boost your immune system. 

The pungent spice of capsaicin attaches to nerve receptors that sense pain – this is why spicy food gives a burning sensation. This pain response can have an anti-inflammatory effect and has been shown to help alleviate symptoms of arthritis, diabetic nerve pain, skin complaints and other auto-immune illnesses. Studies have also found that whilst eating spicy food can initially give you heartburn or acid reflux, over time it can help to reduce symptoms in those that already suffer from digestive illnesses [2].

Peppers have also been found to reduce the risk of developing diet-induced diabetes by lowering insulin response to meals. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition [3] reported that when participants were given 30g of cayenne pepper added to their normal diet, their insulin response decreased by 24%.

Lastly, peppers such as cayenne have also been shown to have protective cardiovascular benefits too. As well as improving blood flow, studies have found that this hot pepper can reduce cholesterol and triglycerides – a type of fat that can trigger cholesterol production [4]. The same study showed that plaque build up in the arteries also reduced.

But can hot peppers help you to burn fat? Read on to find out…


Capsaicin-and-Fat-Burning

Key Point: Hot peppers have a number of health benefits – they can boost your immune system, fight off cancer, protect your arteries and help manage pain.


Can chilies help you lose fat?

There are a number of studies that suggest that hot peppers are potent ‘thermogenics’ – they increase heat and metabolism in the body, therefore increasing energy expenditure and helping you burn fat. Here are a couple of studies that show this under lab conditions:

A study by Yoshioka [5] in the Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology investigated the effects of cayenne pepper on energy metabolism. Volunteers were given a set breakfast with one group’s breakfast also containing 10g of the spice. In the 30 minute after the meal, energy expenditure was significantly higher in the pepper group.

These results were echoed by Yoshioka again in the British Journal of Nutrition [6] three years later. In this study, 13 female volunteers were divided into 4 groups:

  • Group 1: High fat meal
  • Group 2: High fat meal with red pepper
  • Group 3: High carbohydrate meal
  • Group 4: High carbohydrate meal with red pepper

Thermogenesis was much higher in the high fat groups, and the addition of red pepper significantly increased ‘lipid oxidation’ – the fat burning effect, indicating that the inclusion of cayenne pepper increases diet-induced thermogenesis and fat burning.

There are also studies that show weight loss may be induced not only be thermogenesis, but by reducing appetite energy intake as well.

In a large meta-analysis review [7] – a review of all similar published studies – capsaicinoids were assessed for their ability to support weight management through modifying energy intake.

The collective results of the study showed that by ingesting peppers prior to a meal, energy intake was reduced by 74kcal (309.9kJ). The study also suggested that a minimum of 2mg of capsaicinoids were needed to have a positive effect.

Similarly, another large analysis of capsaicin and energy balance found that capsaicin significantly increased energy expenditure and enhanced fat oxidation, especially at high doses [8].


Summary – Do Hot Peppers Burn Fat?

The flowering genus chili plant is a small perennial shrub. The fruit of the plant is well known for its fiery hotness and is a popular ingredient in spicy foods. Dependent on their species, the hot pepper develops into different sizes, colors and shapes.

Hot peppers provide a range of nutrients, including vitamin A and vitamin C – a potent antioxidant. They are also high in vitamin B6, copper and beta-carotene. can be eaten whole, as flakes, dried and powdered, eaten in sauces, or as an extract.

Although they can provoke a painful, burning sensation, they can also create a sense of pleasure and euphoria. Additionally, peppers can provide a number of health benefits including protection of arteries, risk of diabetes, reduced pain and increased immune system.

Research also shows that peppers such as cayenne can boost thermogenesis and decrease overall energy intake making it useful for fat loss. By adding pepper to your meals you can increase the chances of losing weight and prolong the fat burning effect.


References

  1. Mori, A et al. Capsaicin, a Component of Red Peppers, Inhibits the Growth of Androgen-Independent, p53 Mutant Prostate Cancer Cells. Cancer Research. 2006; 66(6)
  2. Bortolotti, M et al. Red pepper and functional dyspepsia. N Engl J Med. 2002; 346(12): 947-8.
  3. Ahuja, KD et al. Effects of chili consumption on postprandial glucose, insulin, and energy metabolism. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006; 84(1): 63-69 
  4. American Chemical Society. (2012, March 29). “Improving Heart Health With Hot Pepper Compound.” Medical News Today
  5. Yoshioka, M et al. Effects of red-pepper diet on the energy metabolism in men. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 1995; 41(6): 647-56
  6. Yoshioka, M et al. Effects of red pepper added to high-fat and high-carbohydrate meals on energy metabolism and substrate utilization in Japanese women. Br J Nutr. 1998;80(6):503-10.
  7. Whiting, S et al. Could capsaicinoids help to support weight management? A systematic review and meta-analysis of energy intake data. Appetite. 2014; 73: 183-8
  8. Ludy, MJ et al. The effects of capsaicin and capsiate on energy balance: critical review and meta-analyses of studies in humans. Chem Senses. 2012; 37(2): 103-21