A little kick never hurt anyone! In fact, it could even help boost your health in a few surprising ways. Cayenne pepper, possibly the most underutilized spice in your pantry, could actually boost your metabolism, improve your heart health, and even reduce pain — not to mention, add zing to any meal!
Cayenne peppers are a type of chili pepper grown natively in Central and South America. These little guys are characterized by their spicy flavor derived from a compound called capsaicin, which also gives them their vibrant red hue. Research shows that consuming cayenne pepper is linked to several health benefits, from improving metabolism and blood pressure to warding off cancer.
When it comes to weight loss and metabolic health, researchers suggest that the capsaicin in cayenne peppers is a thermogenic chemical, or a chemical which increases the amount of heat your body produces, and thus, your metabolic rate. The process is called diet-induced thermogenesis, and it can even help to reduce your appetite! One study found that consuming capsaicin with a meal helped to reduce subjects’ levels of the hunger hormone, ghrelin. Subjects in another study also reported having fewer cravings and feeling less hungry after consuming a meal with capsaicin. Say goodbye to that midnight snack craving!
In terms of its other health benefits, cayenne peppers could boost vascular health, reduce pain, and protect against cancer. One study conducted on mice found that long-term consumption of spices containing capsaicin helped to reduce blood pressure. Another animal study found that consuming capsaicin relaxed blood vessels and therefore reduced blood pressure. And since cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure are so prevalent now, why not give your heart a little boost?
There’s good news if you’re struggling with arthritis or any other types of aches and pains, too. Research shows that capsaicin reduces something called substance P — a chemical produced in the body which sends pain signals to the brain. So, adding some cayenne pepper to your meals could actually help you experience less discomfort.
And if you needed any other reasons to start incorporating cayenne into your diet, it also shows promise as an anti-cancer food. Cancer is characterized by uncontrollable cell growth, but the capsaicin in cayenne peppers has shown to stop cancer cells in their tracks, particularly in the cases of pancreatic, prostate, and skin cancer. Impressive!
If you’re convinced that it’s time to start adding more cayenne pepper into your diet, you can easily do so with little to no risk at all. Some people worry that peppers will irritate the digestive system, but there’s actually some evidence suggesting that capsaicin could actually aid digestion by increasing digestive fluid production and reduce the risk of ulcers.
You can add cayenne pepper spice to curries, stews, or any other recipe, or you can throw it on top of dishes like fried eggs and salads. It has a bit of a strong flavor, so be sure to test your food if you’re new to cooking with it. It's also spicy, though it's not as hot as other peppers like habaneros. Alternatively, you can even add some cayenne to infused water and sip throughout the day. Try adding a teaspoon of cayenne to one or one and a half cups water along with mint and lemon. We like this one from Simply Organic ($4.99, Amazon).