Why Spicy Food is a Really Good Idea

Chili peppers do more than make your eyes water.

serrano-peppers
Photo by The Ellaphant in the Room

Be brave with your dinner and kick it up a notch—the spicier the better, and not just taste-wise. A new study from Harvard University showed that people who ate spicy foods on a daily basis lowered their mortality risk by 14 percent compared to study participants who only ate spicy foods occasionally. They were also less likely to die from cancer, heart, or respiratory diseases.

The findings, published in BMJ, looked at questionnaire data from adults living in China—each participant reported health information, including spicy food consumption and main source of chili intake (fresh, dried, or as part of a sauce or oil). They excluded those who had a history of cancer, heart disease, or stroke, and followed up after seven years to find that of the nearly 500,000 participants, about 20,000 had passed away. When analyzing the mortality rates, they found that a spicy diet was a common factor in reducing the risk of death. Those who drank less alcohol were also at lower risk for death. Fresh chili pepper was a common source—which scientists say is "richer in bioactive ingredients" than the oil or sauce.

What's the magic ingredient? Previous studies have shown that certain ingredients boast anti-obesity and anti-inflammation effects, and last year, research suggested that capsaicin—the main ingredient in chili peppers—may reduce the risk of gut tumors.

Ready to add spice to your dinner? Here's everything you need to know about cooking with chili peppers.