Chili peppers may not be the first food that comes to mind when you’re planning your family’s holiday menu.
But as unconventional as it is, a little dash of heat may actually be the best gift you can give to yourself this year.
It may even keep on giving for the rest of your life!
In fact, recent research shows that eating more of any type of chili pepper is linked with lower rates of heart disease death, cancer death, or death by any cause.
Here’s why I love “heating up” my holiday spread…
Eat spicier, live longer
These researchers looked at four different studies, featuring more than 570,000 participants. Data showed that, compared to people who rarely or never ate chili peppers, people who ate them four or more times weekly had a:
- 26 percent lower risk of heart disease death;
- 23 percent lower risk of cancer death; and
- 25 percent lower risk of death from any cause.1
Of course, these results came with all the requisite hand-wringing over how “this isn’t a randomized control trial” or “we don’t know exactly what type of chili pepper to eat or how much or how frequently.”
And while those details would be great to have, honestly, does it really matter? We’re talking about chili peppers here, folks.
If a pharmaceutical medication performed with those preliminary numbers, doctors would use it off-label yesterday. But since it’s a food—and no one stands to make loads of money off of it—I guess the “experts” can’t be bothered to recommend it, or stand behind it.
But, I can… and I will.
Fight cancer and supercharge metabolic health
I’ve been urging patients to eat more chili peppers
in my practice for many years now—because there’s
plenty of scientific and cultural data to support their benefits.
(I also use them in my own kitchen frequently, as you may have seen in my new cooking show, Cooking with Dr. Fred, on Instagram [@DrFredNYC] and YouTube [“The Dr. Fred Show”].)
In fact, animal studies and smaller studies in humans have shown that the active ingredient in chili peppers—capsaicin—has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, cancer-fighting, and blood regulation effects.
This makes chili peppers a natural foil for lethal conditions like metabolic syndrome and stroke. It can even help to unblock arteries by melting plaque deposits and arteries.
Not only that, but studies show that capsaicin kickstarts thermogenesis (the production of heat through energy) and activates your body’s stores of brown fat—the metabolically active form of disease-fighting fat that actually burns calories rather than storing them.2
Research has also investigated how exposure to capsaicin might even cause cancer cells to self-destruct—possibly halting the disease and promoting greater numbers of healthy cells.3
So when I say that chili peppers are a true “superfood?” Well… I mean it. And that’s exactly why I encourage you to add them to your healthy, balanced diet—starting this holiday season!
Add a kick to your holiday cooking
Hot peppers are members of the notorious nightshade family, including bell peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, and potatoes. As I explained on page 5, nightshades are higher in a compound called solanine, which can pose a problem for some people with autoimmune issues (including arthritis).
But if you’re not sensitive to nightshades, go ahead and add those peppers directly to your meals. Common preparation methods—like chopping, blending, and cooking—even increase capsaicin’s bioavailability.
You can also simply reach for hot sauce—or a generous dash of cayenne pepper. (Just be mindful of hot sauce brands with hidden sugar. Always check the label. Or better yet, experiment with making your own! See the sidebar below.)
Of course, capsaicin is fat-soluble. So you’ll get even more bang for your buck if you add hot sauce to a recipe with some good ole’ fat. And the more it has to “grab on to,” so to speak, the more of the good stuff your body’s going to absorb.
This is excellent news for anyone who likes their meals with a little extra kick. So, if you can stand the heat, by all means, add a liberal dash of hot sauce—or a heaping helping of peppers—to any food you’d like, starting with your holiday spread. You’ll live longer—and healthier—for it.
My A-List Diet recipe for Chili Garlic Paste (makes ½ cup)
- 15 dried whole chilis (preferably a mixture of hot and mild)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled
- Kosher salt
Put the chiles in a bowl and cover with boiling water and a small plate to keep them submerged. Soak for 30 minutes, or until soft. Drain the chiles and reserve some of the soaking water.
Clean each chile by removing the stem, then pulling or slitting the chile open. Do this over a sink since they will contain a lot of water. Scrape out most the seeds, retaining some if you want a hotter paste.
Put the chiles and any seeds you might be using in a blender or food processor, along with the oil, garlic, and a generous amount of salt. Puree until smooth, adding a spoonful of soaking water at a time, until the consistency is a thick paste.
Use immediately or cool, cover tightly, and refrigerate.
This makes a great rub for any meat, poultry, or fish dish. Enjoy!
- American Heart Association (AHA) 2020 Scientific Sessions: Abstract P1036 Presented November 13, 2020.
- Leung FW. “Capsaicin as an anti-obesity drug.” Prog Drug Res.2014;68:171-9.
- “This One Condiment Instantly Improves Your Diet.” Time, 12/03/2015. (https://time.com/4133939/hot-sauce-chili-peppers/?xid=newsletter-health)