Ask most people to list what they consider “health foods” and you’re likely to hear things like granola or tofu. (Never mind that both of those foods are about as bad for you as they come — but that’s a conversation for another day.)
One response you probably won’t get is hot sauce. And that’s a real shame. Because chili peppers rank higher on the superfood spectrum than you’d probably ever guess.
Consider the results of this study, published just last year in the British Medical Journal.
Researchers looked at the dietary habits of nearly 500,000 healthy Chinese men and women. The goal was to see whether a penchant for hot peppers has any effect on mortality rates.
And get this: Subjects who enjoyed spicy food most or all days of the week were almost 15 percent less likely to die during the seven-year study period, compared with subjects who rarely ate spicy food.
Even spicing things up just a couple days a week was linked with a 10 percent lower mortality risk. And these associations held strong with respect to cause-specific mortality, too — including heart disease, respiratory disease, and cancer.
These impressive benefits all seem to trace back to capsaicin — the compound that gives chili peppers their heat. Studies show it has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory powers, making it a natural foil for lethal conditions like metabolic syndrome and stroke. (It can even help to unblock arteries by melting plaque deposits.)
Common hot pepper preparation methods — like chopping, blending, and cooking — increase capsaicin’s bioavailability. So when you think about it, hot sauce is probably the most perfect capsaicin delivery system there is. (And you can’t go wrong with a generous dash of cayenne pepper, either.)
And you’ll get even more bang for your buck if you add hot sauce to a recipe with some fat. That’s because capsaicin is fat-soluble. So the more it has to “grab on to,” so to speak, the more of the good stuff your body’s going to absorb. Excellent news for anyone who likes their guacamole or cheese omelets with a little extra kick.