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Well and Good: Hot And Healthy

If you already like hot and spicy food, there may be more reasons than taste to eat as many spicy ingredients as you can stomach: Hot foods can actually be good for your health!

Of course, you have to know your limits. In some people, too much hot stuff can lead to gastric distress, heartburn or other uncomfortable conditions. But if you’re lucky enough to be able to eat spicy food, here are more reasons to feel good about indulging:

Naturally low-calorie: Chiles, wasabi, horseradish and other hot stuff add lots of flavor to food, but practically zero calories. Add hot, spicy flavors to your cooking instead of the sugar, butter, cheese or oil that we often rely on to make food taste good.

Heart-healthy: In addition to containing no fat, consumption of chiles may actually help lower your cholesterol. Studies are ongoing, but it’s worth noting that in cultures where there’s high consumption of chiles, like India and Thailand, there is also a lower rate of strokes and heart attack.

Slow down your eating: Ever try to gulp down a big bowl of salsa? It can’t be done! Hot foods must be eaten more slowly, and that’s a good thing, because it gives your brain time to process the eating experience. It generally takes about 20 minutes for the brain to send your stomach the signal that it’s full, and thus time to stop eating. Some studies have also shown that when spicy food is served, people tend to eat smaller portions.

Cancer prevention: Studies have suggested the capsaicin in chiles may help fight off some forms of cancer, especially stomach, prostrate and pancreatic cancer.

Burn calories faster: Have you ever felt flushed or hot after eating hot food? That could be a signal that your body is heating up and trying to metabolize the food. Some studies have suggested that the capsaicin, the substance that makes chiles hot, has a thermogenic effect. That means it makes your metabolism speed up, helping your body burn calories faster.

Help for arthritis: Chiles have anti-inflammatory compounds. Researchers are currently studying whether consuming them can help alleviate the inflammation and pain in joints.

Allergy relief: If you’ve ever said of a spicy dish, well, THAT cleared up my sinuses, you may have been more right than you knew. Capsaicin can help relieve nasal congestion by helping clear mucus from your nose, and it also may help prevent sinus infections.

Lift your mood: Some chile fans believe the good feeling you may experience after a sinus-clearing meal isn’t all in your head. It’s possible – though still unproven – that consumption of capsaicin may stimulate the release of pain-fighting endorphins, which contribute to feelings of well-being.