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Good news, heat seekers: Scientists think chilli might be a superfood

It turns out spicy food does more for you than clear the sinuses and make you crave a tall glass of milk. Yep, a report from Time suggests that eating spicy food will give you a 14% reduced risk of death and slow the growth of cancer cells.

It sounds pretty awesome, but let’s get down to the nitty gritty. While some have taken this immediately to mean that all hot sauces are superfoods, we have an inkling that there’s a little bit more to it.

David Popovich, a scientist and senior lecturer at Massey University in New Zealand, swears by the health benefits of eating hot chilli peppers.

Just so we’re clear: when talking about the health benefits of chilli, we’re talking about the pepper itself, not the added sugar and sodium and goodness knows what else is in your favourite supermarket hot sauce.

Hot sauce BBQ

It might be time to load up on hot sauce.

The active ingredient in peppers – capsaicin – has proven to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer effects.

Another scientific paper reported that after surveying half a million Chinese adults, those who ate spicy foods three or more times a week had reduced their risk of premature death by 14%.

Popovich conducted his own experiments. Namely, he put capsaicin directly onto cancer cells.

The result? The cell growth was reduced.

But it’s not all about the capsaicin, or the fieriness of the pepper. It’s the combination of the capsaicin with the other compounds found in the pepper that makes it so good for you.

Jose de Jesus Ornelas-Paz, a researcher of vegetable bioactive compounds at the Research Center for Food and Development in Mexico, told Time:

“Pungent peppers are a cocktail of bioactive compounds.

“Capsaicin depends on them for its health benefits. Blending, cutting and cooking improve the release of [these compounds] from pepper tissue, increasing the amount available for absorption.”

Popovich confirms and expands upon this theory. Basically, capsaicin is also a fat-soluble molecule. This means if you pair it with oil, the body can absorb more of it.

So ‘hot sauce’ could indeed be a superfood as long as you make it from scratch, or read the labels to ensure there isn’t too much crap in it.

Popovich suggests the following hot sauce cocktail: red habanero peppers, vinegar, a little bit of salt, some garlic, and voila!

“The bottom line is that any kind of vegetable material you consume will improve your health. But hot peppers are really beneficial for you, if you can take the spice.”

The question is: can you?

[Body image by iSAWcompany]

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