Spicy Foods and the Link to Long Life: Fact or Fiction?

Marie France Bodyline

Some Asian cuisines are just not for the faint of heart, tongue or throat. But if you could take the heat and in fact love spicy foods, you’d be glad to know that you might be eating your way to a longer life!

Recent studies from China and America have revealed that people who consume spicy foods almost every day, have a 14% lower risk of death than people who eat spicy foods once a week or none at all.

So don’t be surprisedif,one day, your doctor tells you that chilli is good for your health, for the many different components of chilliprovide many different benefits to the different parts of our body.

The question that would follow then is: How does it exactly work?

Before we dwell into the answer and its mechanics, let’s get the picture right first. On principal, these studies are not telling us that spicy foods will cause you to live longer, but only that people who regularly eat spicy foodsare found to be less likely to die from diseases such as cancer, ischemic heart diseases or respiratory diseases than those who do not.

Now, for the answer.

To begin with, have you wondered why eating spicy foods at times cheer you up when you’re stressed from work or down with illnesses? Well, this is why: Chili boosts the level of endorphins and serotonins in your body, which in turn dull pain and act as powerful stress relievers and depression fighters. For physical pains, topical application of the chemical over and above oral consumption helps to reduce the pain too.

Although a direct causal link is yet to be confirmed, active components commonly found in fresh and dried chili peppers, such as capsaicin, is said to slow down the growth of cancer cells and in some instances, even cause these deadly cells to die off without harming the surrounding healthy cells, something even modern chemotherapy technologies have yet to achieve.

Not just stopping there, capsaicin also provides protective effects against bacteria accumulation in your guts, speeds up metabolic rates and helps with weight loss. Capsaicin particularly is useful in lowering bad cholesterol and triglycerides and preventing inflammation, all of which are directly linked to weight loss.

In addition, some spicy foods provide important nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin C and fibre that we need on daily basis for good health. Peppers are known to help strengthen the blood vessel walls, indirectly preventing diseases such as stroke.

Your lungs and heart love chillies as well. Components of chilli have been found to improve the body’s ability to dissolve blood clots. In particular, the capsaicin in peppers prevents inflammationalong your blood circulation systems, a risk factor for heart diseases. Spicy foods in general also act as expectorant, and helps people with asthma or chronic bronchitis to breathe better by opening up clogged nasal passages.

Last but not least, your bones. Circumin, which is present in most ginger family foods such as turmeric, helps to alleviate the pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis, and further reduces the risk of joint inflammation and bone destruction.

Having seen the vast benefits of eating spicy foods, it doesn’t mean you may recklessly consume chilli without caring for your guts. Just like many other foodstuffs, spicy foodsalso haveboth the good and the bad. Eating too much spicy foods may trigger an increase in gastric juice in some people, causing complications such as heartburn and gastritis, amongst others. If the chilli used is too strong, for instance Cayenne or Ghost Pepper, spicy foods can not only leave your guts muddled, but also your taste buds scorched.


Hence, if you intend to add more chilli to your diet, try dishes cooked or infused with chili instead of eating the chillies raw. Two decent recipes, one dessert and one appetizer, are provided below for a start:


Hot Chilli Chocolate

Ingredients: 2 cups (500ml) milk, ½ tsp (2ml) vanilla extract, ½ tsp (2ml) cinnamon, ¼ tsp (1ml) cayenne pepper, 2 tbsp (30ml) dark chocolate chips or 1 oz (30g) bittersweet chocolate (grated).

Directions: Heat milk using medium heat. Add vanilla, cinnamon and cayenne pepper. Stir in dark chocolate chips (or chopped bittersweet chocolate) until melted. Pour into two mugs. Serves two.

Nutrition: per serving: 196 calories, 12g protein, 11g fat, 19g carbohydrates, 3g fiber, 10mg cholesterol, 146mg sodium.

Cuisine: Desserts and Drinks

Hot Chilli Cholocate


From the above recipes, you will observe that adding nominal level of heat to your meals does the job good enough.

Increasing your intake of spicy foods moderately, perhaps to three to five times a week, may increase your immunity against various diseases by several folds. For us Malaysians, we are fortunate that our foods are well balanced with decent levels of heat. Even a pack of low-fat nasilemak with the right amount of sambalfor breakfast every day could perhaps do justice.

Now that you know what chilli can do to your body, try adding some heat to your food, and spice to your life!


Spicy Korean Cucumber Salad

Ingredients: 2 tsp rice vinegar, 1-2 tsp gochugaru (red pepper powder), 1 tsp toasted sesame oil, 1 tsp toasted sesame seeds, ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp sugar, 1 scallion (chopped), 2 cucumbers (sliced 1/8-inch thick).

Directions: Combine all ingredients except cucumbers in a bowl. Taste and adjust seasonings if desired. Add cucumber slices and toss to coat (wear gloves and use your hands or use tongs). Serve room temperature or chilled. Serves 2 to 4.

Nutrition: Per serving: 336 calories, 3g fat, 1.4g carbohydrates, 0.2g fiber, 1.1g sugar, 0.3g protein, 50.2mg sodium.

Cuisine: Appetizers and Side dishes

Spicy Korean Cucumber Salad

*As causes for being overweight vary from person to person, weight loss results will also vary from person to person, dependant on various genetic or environmental factors such as food intake, individual rate of metabolism, level of exercise, etc. No individual result should be seen as typical.