Do Spicy Food Lovers Live Longer?

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles | December 16, 2016

If you enjoy spicing up your meals, then you’re in for some good news. Studies suggest that eating spicy foods may help you live longer. Although research is still ongoing, some findings show that adding an extra kick to your food may provide you with extra health benefits.

In a study published in the British Medical Journal, Harvard researchers found that people who ate spicy foods every day had a 14 percent lower risk of premature death than people who ate them once per week.

The study observed approximately 500,000 healthy adults across China between 2004 and 2008, following up with them about seven years later. While the study didn’t conclude that spicy foods enable people to live longer, it did show that those who consumed spicy foods more often were less likely to have died during that seven year period than those who ate spicy foods less than once a week.

People who regularly consumed spicy foods, especially those flavored with fresh and dried chili peppers, also showed a reduced risk of death from cancer, ischemic heart disease, and respiratory disease. The study suggests that the bioactive ingredient, capsaicin, may be responsible. Capsaicin has been linked to several health benefits such as lowering cholesterol, alleviating inflammatory pain, and boosting metabolism. Studies suggest that it may also have a positive impact on gut bacteria and weight management.

However, additional research is necessary before making any conclusions as to whether or not eating spicy foods protects us from diseases and premature death. While researchers found that the participants who were still alive at the end of the study period ate spicy foods more often, the study did not take into account several factors, including lifestyle and eating habits, food preparation, and the specific spices used, and instead, relied on self-reports.

Still, research looks promising and can give us another reason to add an extra level of flavor to our food. Keep in mind that our spicy diets still need to be healthy ones, filled with many nutrient-rich ingredients. Experiment with spices by adding a kick to a varied, whole food diet with some of these and other recipe ideas:

  • Turkey chili with red pepper flakes
  • Lentil pilaf with spicy curry sauce
  • Homemade whole grain crust pizza with sliced hot peppers
  • Spicy power bowl (brown rice, beans, spinach, tomatoes, avocado with hot pepper sauce)
  • Spicy western omelet with green chili peppers
  • Mexican fajita wrap with hot salsa
  • Spicy fish tacos
  • Toasted whole grain tortillas with spicy guacamole

Remember to not go overboard with the chili peppers and hot sauces since spicy foods may cause heartburn and stomach problems for some people. In moderation, it can be a fun, creative, and cultural way to improve your health! There’s no conclusive evidence that eating spicy food helps you live longer, but it’s a promising study that can give us an extra reason to spice things up.

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Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles

Jenn Giles, R.D., C.S.S.D. is all about health and wellness. She has over 15 years’ experience, including a dual master’s degree in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Columbia University. She is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). She supplements all of this with her spin instructor certification and USATriathlon Level I Coach Certification.

Jennifer is passionate about (actually, obsessed with) the sport of triathlon. She has been personally participating in triathlons since 2000 and running road races since 1992. She is a two-time Ironman finisher and has completed countless numerous marathons. She has been a member of Power Bar Team Elite since 2006 and competed as a member of the 2006 Aquaphor/ Sponsored Athlete Team. She was ranked as USAT All American Honorable mention in 2006 and 2011. Jennifer does all of this along side of her husband, Patrick, who is an equally accomplished triathlete and runner. They try as hard as they can to do all of their training and racing together.

She will tell you, however, that her most important, most rewarding and most challenging job is as a mother of four. She knows first hand the challenges of maintaining optimal fitness, overall good health and achieving goals while raising a family - of which good nutrition is the cornerstone.

Most importantly, she knows how to motivate, inspire and challenge athletes based on their own abilities, strengths and everyday lifestyles. She believes there is an athlete in everyone - no matter what their abilities are – and if those abilities are manifold, then there is an even better athlete in there!

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