I’ve always been a wimp when it comes to spice. Hot sauce? Sriracha? No thank you. But I started to change my tune a few years ago and began experimenting with small amounts of the spicy stuff. Turns out, the heat does more than just boost flavor – it may actually have some health benefits. Like many things, there are both pros and cons to eating spicy foods. Consider the good and the bad next time you reach for that bottle of hot sauce.

The Good

  • Increase Your Lifespan. A 2015 study looked at the diets of half a million men and women and found that those who ate spicy foods almost every day had a 14% lower risk of death. This was compared to people who added spice to their meal less than once a week. Women who frequently ate spicy foods were for to specifically have a lower risk of deal from cancer and heart disease.
  • Support Immunity. Spicy peppers are full of vitamins A and C, which can help to boost your immune system and fight cold viruses. Some studies also show that spicy foods can have antibacterial properties.
  • Improve Heart Health. Hot peppers have been shown to help lower LDL or “bad” cholesterol, raise HDL or “good” cholesterol, and improve blood flow throughout your body. Hot peppers also contain a number of antioxidants, and capsaicin may help fight inflammation. All of this leads to a strong heart and a lower risk of heart disease.

The Not-So-Good

  • Worsen Heartburn. While spicy food doesn’t actually cause heartburn or ulcers (yup, that’s a myth!), it can make them worse. If you suffer from heartburn and find that it worsens after eating spicy foods, try cutting down on the portion size. Often smaller meals, and smaller amounts of spice, can help to control this.
  • Laxative Effect. Spicy food can irritate your gut and intestines, which can cause a laxative effect in some people.
  • Dull Taste Buds. While spicy food adds flavor, regularly eating very spicy foods can blunt your taste buds’ sensitivity over time.

Do you have a hard time tolerating even mildly spicy foods? It’s possible to train your taste buds and build your tolerance over time. Start small, and slowly up the heat. Spices like ginger, turmeric and red pepper flakes are good options to start with. Try using both fresh peppers, chilies and spices to experiment with different flavor combinations. Check out more ways to spice up your food here.

Share your favorite ways to add spice to your food with us in the comments section!

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