Add heat (and health goodness) to your meals.
Spicing up your meals does more than tickle your taste buds. That heat you feel comes from the active compound capsaicin, which can have a powerful effect on your health. For starters, research has shown it can protect your heart by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. There’s other evidence that regularly adding some red pepper like cayenne to your meals may aid weight loss by curbing appetite and possibly speeding up metabolism.
“Losing weight may be a challenge with a monstrous appetite, so try sprinkling on a dash of red pepper,” says Angela Ginn, RDN, LDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Added spice can prevent one from overeating.” Capsaicin can also relieve pain and is used as an active ingredient in some prescription painkillers. It also seems to counteract inflammation and surprisingly to have the power to prevent or heal stomach ulcers.
How to Spice Things Up
“You can turn up the heat of your favorite foods by opening your spice cabinet,” Ginn says. “Each spice has a different level of intensity, varying from mild to tear-jerking.” The Scoville Scale measures the heat of chili peppers. You can see that bell peppers have no heat, while Anaheim, Poblano, Jalapeno, Chipotle, Cayenne, and Habanero work their way up the scale. Different people have different tolerances for the heat, which may have something to do with your personality. But there are a lot of different ways to add spice—even for less adventurous eaters. You may need to experiment a bit with adjusting the heat to suit your tolerance, though. Try using different peppers than the recipe calls for (refer to the Scoville scale for guidance) or more or less of them to your taste. “Add a little spice for your health!” Ginn says. Here are 5 ways to do it.
Caribbean jerk seasoning “Many dishes prepared with island flavors are also spicy, such as Jamaican jerk flavor,” Stacy Rothschild, MPH, RD, a New Jersey-based nutrition expert. “Preparing a protein with heat might be a nice way to get some spice in. Then prepare the sides without it to balance the meal if you are not used to too much spice.” You can use jerk flavoring for chicken, pork, or seafood. Try this spicy pork tenderloin.
Curry “Indian dishes including curries are also traditionally spicy and a fun addition to a regular meal rotation,” Rothschild says. Curries work with chicken, tofu, or veggies as well as prawns. Try this curry with prawns.
Chili Appropriately, chili is typically made with chilies or their powder. “It’s a great dish that is easy to make, and can be made with various levels of spice,” Rothschild says. “It can also be prepared vegetarian, or with many types of animal protein.” Try this Texas version or this white chicken chili.
Salsa Of course salsa is delicious on its own with chips, but you can use it on eggs and Mexican dishes. “Start with some easy Tex-Mex dishes,” Rothschild says. “You can also make them nice and healthy by adding in lots of veggies, brown rice and whole-wheat tortillas.” Choose a salsa that suits your heat tolerance, whether that’s mild or extra-hot. Try a vegetarian burrito bowl or these avocado chicken tacos.
Mexican hot chocolate Cocoa probably isn’t the first concoction that comes to mind when you think of spicy food, but cinnamon and spice do work well in hot chocolate. Here’s how to try it.