If you can't imagine eating your breakfast without first slathering it in Tobasco, you might be on to something. For folks who are able to take the heat, hot sauce can be a really simple way to improve one's diet — while staying in the kitchen! And it's all thanks to a little ingredient called capsaicin.
What is capsaicin?
Capsaicin is the active ingredient in chili peppers that's responsible for their famous spiciness. Known for its pain-relieving properties, this pepper extract makes up only about 0.1 to 1 percent of the total vegetable. But despite being small in size, capsaicin packs some pretty big benefits.
Health Benefits of Hot Sauce With Capsaicin
You might have heard that peppers can have some seriously slimming effects, and the research backs it up. A June 2017 review found that capsaicin boasts multiple benefits for metabolic health, especially for weight loss in obese people. A small study published in the journal Appetite in 2014 also found that capsaicin increased the sensation of feeling full after eating, and decreased participants' desire to eat after dinner.
Shedding some unwanted pounds isn't the only advantage to getting fired up; a paper published in 2015 that analyzed half a million Chinese adults found that the folks who ate spicy foods — including chili peppers — three or more times a week had a 14 percent reduced risk of death, compared to those who didn’t eat much spicy food at all.
In the last several years, scientists have also been studying the ways by which capsaicin appears to slow the growth of cancer cells in the lab. Though researchers don't know how the extract works within an actual human body just yet, they have watched it bind to the outer membrane of some cancer cells and lodge itself in — appearing to trigger chemical changes in the surface of the cell.
Although more research is needed to confirm whether capsaicin could actually kill cancer within a human body, top hot pepper expert David Popovich, PhD, said one theory is that it triggers a type of cell "suicide" that encourages some cells to be recycled into new ones.
"That’s one of the ways scientists think capsaicin and other active compounds in vegetables can prevent cancer development: by stimulating apoptotic cell death," Dr. Popovich said in an interview with Time.
We don't know about you, but we're suddenly in the mood for some hot sauce!
How to Get the Most Hot Sauce Benefits
You might be tempted to stock up on every hot sauce in sight after hearing about those magnificent capsaicin benefits, but not so fast: It's worth noting that not all hot sauces are created equal. Sorry, Sriracha fans, your sweetened chili sauce of choice comes with a package deal of added sugar. And other hot sauces — like the beloved Louisiana — are filled to the brim with sodium. Be sure to check the label before you buy to make sure neither ingredient goes overboard.
For what it's worth, Popovich favors one with red habanero peppers, vinegar, a little bit of salt, and garlic. He says you can reap even more hot sauce benefits by using one like this if you pair it with a little fat or oil; that way, your body can absorb it even more.
"The bottom line is that any kind of vegetable material you consume will improve your health," Popovich said. "But hot peppers are really beneficial for you, if you can take the spice."
Next, learn some more healthy staples to stock your pantry with in the video below: