Spicing up your daily diet makes your food taste better. So you might think that you would eat more of it. But it now looks like it can actually help us lose weight.
That’s just one of the paradoxical aspects of a new study. Not all spices will help us lose weight, but it seems that adding a little red pepper to our food will.Most chili peppers have capsaicin, the part of it that gives peppers their heat. We can add it to our food in different ways, including crushed red pepper and hot sauce.I add hot sauce to much of what I eat, especially eggs and meat. Now that I have stopped adding salt to anything, I use even more hot sauce to bring out the flavor of my food.Some of my friends tease me about how much hot sauce I use. They say that I have burned out my taste buds. “Because you can’t taste your food any more is why you don’t eat a lot,” a friend told me yesterday over dinner. “It works just like tobacco.”While tobacco has well-known negative side effects, the capsaicin in red pepper apparently doesn’t. The researchers at Purdue University just reported their results in the journal Physiology & Behavior. The abstract, “The effects of hedonically acceptable red pepper doses on thermogenesis and appetite,” is online, and the university kindly sent me the full-text of the study.This study is the first to use moderate amounts of red pepper. Earlier studies found that capsaicin can burn calories and reduce hunger. But the amounts that those studies tested were not realistic for most Americans, says Richard Mattes, professor of foods and nutrition who collaborated on the study with doctoral student Mary-Jon Ludy.The new study measured the effect of just 1 gram, which is half a teaspoon. This is quite a bit less than the amount I use, and many people can tolerate that amount. This study also showed that tasting the red pepper works better than hiding it in a capsule.In the new study 25 people, 13 who liked spicy food and 12 who didn’t, took part. Those who didn’t like red pepper preferred 0.3 grams compared to regular users who preferred 1.8 grams. Red pepper consumption generally increased core body temperature and burned more calories through natural energy expenditure.The big problem is people in the two groups reacted to red pepper differently. “The appetite responses were different between those who liked red pepper and those who did not, suggesting that when the stimulus is unfamiliar it has a greater effect,” the authors reported. “Once it becomes familiar to people, it loses its efficacy.”
But the key finding is that those who had not regularly used red pepper were less hungry, especially for fatty, salty, and sweet foods. So using red pepper can help those of us who have to struggle with our weight. Since almost everyone who has diabetes is overweight, every little bit helps. And at least for a while, a little bit of red pepper can be another arrow in our quiver.