The more spicy foods you eat, the longer you’re likely to live compared to folks whose diets lack fiery ingredients like chili peppers. A team of Harvard researchers looked into the question of whether or not spicy foods had any influence on the risk of death among some 199,000 men and 288,000 women ages 30 through 79 who lived in 10 regions of China. None had a history of cancer, heart disease or stroke when the study began. The team surveyed the participants’ diet and health histories between 2004 and 2008. After seven years of follow up, results indicated that regular consumption of spicy foods was linked to decreased chances of dying during the study. Eating spicy foods once or twice a week was associated with a 10 percent decline in the overall risk for death compared to consuming spicy foods less than once a week. Consuming spicy foods even more often - between three and seven days a week - was linked to a risk of death 14 percent lower than the others in the study. Fresh chili peppers in particular were associated with a lower incidence of dying from cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The researchers noted that while the study didn’t prove cause and effect, it did show an association between spicy foods and a lower risk of death.
My take: This is good news for those of us who enjoy spicy foods. Earlier studies have indicated that capsaicin, a compound in chili peppers that gives it its heat, is a natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent and may enhance the metabolism of fat. Red chili peppers also have been shown to reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Most varieties are high in vitamin C, a potential cancer fighter. Here in the American Southwest, chili peppers and cayenne are staples. Many healthy traditional cuisines incorporate chili pepper into both savory and sweet dishes - and it's a delicious addition to hot chocolate.