Diet Food: Red Hot Chili Peppers May Help You Eat Less

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It’s long been known that spicy red peppers can help suppress appetite and burn calories. But most scientific studies of red peppers’ properties used quantities of the stuff that were too large to be applicable to Americans. Now, researchers report that even a reasonable amount of red pepper consumption may do the trick.

In their study, Richard Mattes, a distinguished professor of foods and nutrition at Purdue University, and doctoral student Mary-Jon Ludy found that eating a moderate amount of dried cayenne red pepper — less than a teaspoon — boosted calorie burn and reduced appetite, especially for people who didn’t typically use the spice.

The experiment involved 25 normal-weight participants — 13 who liked spicy food and 12 who did not — who spent six weeks sprinkling cayenne pepper on their food. Those who were already accustomed to hot flavors used 1.8 grams of cayenne per day; those with more tender tongues used 0.3 grams.

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The researchers found that the capsaicin — the compound that gives red peppers its burn — raised the body’s core temperature during digestion in all participants, so everyone burned more calories after eating. But the researchers noted that only the people who were not accustomed to eating spicy food benefited from the appetite-suppressing factor: these participants reported a decrease in hunger, especially for fatty, sugary and salty foods.

The authors suggest that while other studies have looked at capsaicin in capsule form, its appetite-suppressing effect may be enhanced when people can actually taste its flavor. “That burn in your mouth is responsible for that effect,” Mattes said in a statement. “It turns out you get a more robust effect if you include the sensory part because the burn contributes to a rise in body temperature, energy expenditure and appetite control.”

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Red peppers may not be a panacea for weight loss, but if you’re trying to cut down on calories before swimsuit season, it doesn’t hurt to add them to your plate. “Dietary changes that don’t require great effort to implement, like sprinkling red pepper on your meal, may be sustainable and beneficial in the long run, especially when paired with exercise and healthy eating,” Mattes said.

The study is published in Physiology & Behavior.