Q+A: Can spicy foods be effective in weight management?

Although the notion that spicy foods can help in weight management might sound like something in a supermarket tabloid, the idea has some intriguing possibilities.

by Matt Brzycki

Although the notion that spicy foods can help in weight management might sound like something in a supermarket tabloid, the idea has some intriguing possibilities.

For one thing, spicy foods can increase metabolic rate by raising body temperature. The greatest increase in body temperature is triggered by capsaicin, a molecule that’s found in chili peppers; it’s what makes hot peppers hot. It’s also the active ingredient in pepper spray.

Keep in mind, however, that the thermogenic effect of capsaicin on metabolic rate is temporary—and small. Remember, too, that eating any food will increase your metabolic rate. The reason: The body uses calories to digest, absorb and transport food. This thermic effect of food—referred to scientifically as “specific dynamic action”—accounts for roughly 10% of the body’s daily caloric intake.

But the real benefit of eating spicy foods is that it seems to curb appetite. Research indicates that spicy foods produce an increase in satiety and a decrease in caloric intake. Taken together, an increase in caloric output (however slight) and a decrease in caloric intake would help in weight management.

One caution: Spicy foods can cause gastrointestinal distress, so they should be avoided by people who have ulcers or chronic heartburn or who were instructed by their doctor to do so.

Have a question for our experts? Send it to AmericanFitness@nasm.org.

REFERENCE:

Tremblay, A., Arguin, H., & Panahi, S. 2016. Capsaicinoids: A spicy solution to the management of obesity? International Journal of Obesity, 40 (8), 1198–1204.

Meet our experts

AFM-Author-Brzycki Matt Brzycki , is the Assistant Director of Campus Recreation, Fitness at Princeton University. He has more than 30 years of experience at the collegiate level and has authored, co-authored and edited 17 books.

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