5 Health Benefits of Spicy Food (and the Top Destinations to Try It)4 min read
Suffer from migraines? Joint pain? Allergies? The cure might just be one fiery curry or spicy taco away. The same spice in chili peppers that makes you break a sweat is also said to help with everything from pain management to lowering the risk of heart disease.
That “spice” in spicy foods stems from a little compound in chili peppers called capsaicin. Along with aiding in the relief of all of the aforementioned ailments, capsaicin’s purported health benefits are widespread.
Check out the top five health benefits of capsaicin and a few of the best countries to visit for spicy food lovers:
1. Ulcers/Digestive Health
Spicy foods may sometimes feel like they’re burning a hole in your stomach but in actuality, they’re a friend to your digestive tract.
Studies have shown that people with less capsaicin in their diet are up to three times more susceptible to ulcers in comparison with people from countries that consume higher quantities of hot peppers.
Spicy peppers, like the pantry-staple cayenne, have been said to aid digestion by helping to increase the enzymes in your tummy and protecting it against infection.
2. Lowered Risk of Heart Disease
Have you heard about “bad” and “good” cholesterol? Well, spicy peppers are an antidote to the bad guys. On top of that, they help increase the good kind, too.
Capsaicin is known to relax arteries, increase circulation, and lower blood pressure. It can also decrease the levels of inflammation in your heart, a major cause of heart disease.
3. Weight Loss
Capsaicin has metabolism-boosting properties, helps reduce hunger, and can lead to lower overall calorie consumption.
When you go heavy on the spice, you’re creating flavorful dishes more easily. This means you’re relying less on adding taste through more fatty methods (looking at you, butter!) and with less salt/sugar (your heart thanks you for this one too).
4. Reduces Pain
When applied to the skin as a cream, capsaicin can help reduce the intensity of the pain signals that your body is sending to the brain. This is true for painful joints, sore muscles, and erratic nerves. It can help after surgery as well, though it should never be applied to open wounds (for obvious reasons).
Bonus*: Cream application of capsaicin has been shown to significantly reduce the scaling and redness associated with Psoriasis.
5. Cancer Fighter
An abundance of antioxidants is one of the chili pepper’s top qualities. And along with its anti-inflammatory benefits, it’s one of the reasons that these spicy fruits are celebrated as a cancer fighter in the food world.
Research has shown that consuming large quantities of hot peppers (~8 large habaneros per week!) can be effective at fighting bladder, pancreatic, and breast cancers.
Travel for the Spice
So if your joints are feeling a little stiff or you need some relief from psoriasis, a plane ticket might just be your best (albeit temporary) cure.
Head to the following countries to find the world’s best spicy foods:
1. Sri Lanka
One of the most dependably spicy cuisines on the planet from breakfast to dinner — you can be sure that whatever you’re being served in Sri Lanka will pack some heat.
Kottu, present on nearly every menu, is a heavily spiced dish made primarily of deep-fried roti bread. Deviled fish curries taste as diabolically delicious as they sound. And Pol Sambol, a yummy garnish of shredded coconut and chili pepper, can often be found alongside your breakfast.
Meals in Sri Lanka will rarely set you back more than $5 and it is hard to find a restaurant without a beach or mountain view in this stunning country.
Mexicans are known to go a little loco when it comes to adding spice to dishes. Luckily, you can usually select hot sauces to suit your palette. Head for the habanero if you’re a heat lover and enjoy the added benefit of the high capsaicin count.
Find an Antojitos (snack) restaurant and eat your way through all the tacos, sopes, tostadas, and tortas you can handle. They typically cost less than $1 each and include serve-yourself access to the hot sauce and garnish options.
Whether you’re more of a Pad Thai person or a Green Curry fan, a visit to Thailand will open your eyes to the many incredible Thai meals that exist beyond our western menus. Many of them make heavy-handed use of the local bird’s eye chilis, which rank high on the Scoville spicy pepper scale, meaning all the more health benefits!
From the tiny town of Pai in the north to the islands in the south, you can easily find cooking classes in Thailand to learn to replicate the delicious, medicative cuisine once you get back home.