Ask an Expert: Does Eating Spicy Food Burn Extra Calories?

Is eating spicy foods an effective way to help control weight? Our metabolism and sports nutrition expert Douglas S. Kalman PhD, RD weighs in on this “hot” topic.

Expert's Take

Douglas Kalman, PhD, RD: Ever watch someone eat a dish at a Thai or Indian restaurant and slowly witness beads of sweat forming on their forehead? (Ben Stiller knows what that’s like.) For some, having a food-side effect of breaking out in a sweat, even a mild sweat, indicates that extra calories are being burned. But does eating spicy foods or using hot spices actually help rev metabolism? Let’s examine the recent science and see if the sweat tests holds true.

Scientists from Purdue University recently decided to test if adding red pepper (rich in capsaicin), at a level that Americans typically deem acceptable, would affect participant’s appetite and metabolic rate The effects of hedonically acceptable red pepper doses on thermogenesis and appetite. Ludy, MJ., Mattes, RD. Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana. Physiology & Behavior 2011 Mar 1;102(3-4):251-8.. In this study 25 healthy young adults were tested to eat spicy and non-spicy meals (to control for “acclamation” to spicy foods, half the study participants were spicy food eaters and half were not). Long story short, the study determined that yes, spicy foods like red peppers, in as little as a 1 gram amount can affect metabolic rate and even subsequent overall food intake.

However, this occurred only in those who were “naïve” to eating spicy foods. Thus, similar to as what happens in life, it seems we get desensitized to the positive, metabolism boosting effects of hot peppers, at least when served in a 1 gram amount.

The results of the study shouldn’t be the end all as related to using spices and spicy food as part of a waist control or calorie-burning modality, but it can’t hurt to incorporate spicy food into your repertoire every once and awhile for that extra boost— if you can take the heat!

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