Have you ever wondered what gives spicy veggies their bold flavor profile? Or to put it another way, what makes hot peppers, well, hot? Well, wonder no longer.
The not-so- secret ingredient found in hot peppers is capsaicin, a naturally occurring compound found chiefly in vegetables like jalapenos, habaneros and chili peppers.
What’s lesser known about capsaicin is that aside from perking up peppers to give them their special piquancy, this compound has a number of health promoting properties. And as researchers have learned, capsaicin is especially effective in enhancing weight loss.
Increases body’s ‘good fat’ production
The evidence suggesting this comes out of the University of Wyoming. Presenting their findings at the Biophysical Society in Baltimore in 2015, then graduate student Vivek Krishnan and Dr. Baskaran Thyagarajan of the university’s School of Pharmacy, discovered that capsaicin may help the body convert white fat – the bad kind – into brown fat, the healthier variety.
“In our bodies, white fat cells store energy and brown fat cells serve as thermogenic (heat produced by burning fat) machinery to burn stored fat,” said Krishnan, as reported by CBS News. “Eating calorie-rich food and a lack of physical activity cause an imbalance in metabolism that leads to obesity.”
Labros Sidossis, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, told CBS News that once this conversion process takes place, brown fat fires up the body’s metabolism, potentially burning up to 300 additional calories in a 24-hour period.
Capsaicin intensifies salt flavors
But another way capsaicin may be an effective weight management ingredient comes from appetite suppression, specifically for foods that are high in sodium.
Published in the journal Hypertension earlier this year, a clinical study that involved approximately 600 adults used capsaicin in blind taste tests to see how participants reacted to certain flavors. The foods that the researchers had the adults try were either salty or spicy, both containing high levels of capsaicin.
After having the participants fill out questionnaires and analyzing the urine samples and blood pressure readings the subjects submitted to, researchers found that those who ate spicy foods consumed less salt, averaging about 2.5 grams less per day.
Zhiming Zhu, M.D. the study’s lead author and director at the Center for Hypertension and Metabolic Diseases at Daping Hospital in China, said that this was made possible by capsaicin intensifying the flavor of salt, making the body less likely to crave more.
“We found that the enjoyment of spicy food can enhance salty taste sensitivity by modifying the salty taste in the brain,” Zhu explained, according to Prevention Magazine.
Zhu further referenced how in brain scans of the subjects, those who ate the spicy foods had a higher degree of activity, suggesting that capsaicin more effectively stimulates the body’s perception of saltiness.
Nutritionists and primary care physicians have long known about the linkage between high sodium foods and obesity, as hypertension (high blood pressure) and weight gain are frequently associated.
Diet and exercise are the two biggest elements that influence weight levels. Including more capsaicin in your meal planning can be a smart way to fire up your metabolism so you can slim down.