I love spicy food. Whether it’s Carribbean, southwestern U.S. or southeastern Asian cuisine, turn up the heat and you get my attention. So when I see headlines connecting heat with weight loss, my curiosity gets piqued.
A recent review in the research journal Chemical Senses looked at studies designed to answer the question of whether capsaicin, the heat-causing chemical found in hot peppers, is effective in helping people either suppress appetite or lose weight. In some studies, people were fed food spiked with capsaicin; in others, they took the chemical in pill form. Yet other studies tested capsiate, a chemical cousin that comes from sweet peppers and doesn’t have the “burn” of capsaicin, so might be more palatable to people that associate “heat” with “heartburn” and other problems.
So, did the use of hot or sweet peppers help? The answer was a resounding “maybe.” After analyzing all those studies, the Purdue University researchers concluded that there was some evidence for a possible connection between capsaicin/capsiate and a mild effects on weight management.
In my book, “mild” is an understatement. Adding a palatable level of spiciness might allow an average weight, middle-aged man to lose a little over a pound over 6.5 years. That’s not a pound a year- that’s a pound total over six and a half years. If the same man ingested it in pill form (so the dose could be higher), he might be able to lose just under six pounds over 8.5 years.
I have to say, this research did little to start a fire in my belly. Especially when they went on to say that they weren’t sure about the long-term effects, as people may adapt to the capsaicin over time.
Does that mean I’m no longer pining for peppers? Hardly. I’d like to believe that some day someone could show a stronger weight management benefit for the hot stuff. In the mean time, I’ll be thinking about palatability, not pounds, as I reach for my bottle of hot sauce.
The Effects of Capsaicin and Capsiate on Energy Balance: Critical Review and Meta-analyses of Studies in Humans [Chemical Senses]