How Spicy Foods can Help You Fight Fat

By Tim Skwiat, Pn2

I don’t know about you, but I love spicy food. Not only does it taste great, it can also boost the metabolism. That’s right, the same compound that makes certain foods spicy can also turn up the heat on your metabolism, helping burn more calories and torch unwanted body fat.

You see, hot peppers contain a compound called capsaicin, and observational studies suggest that consumption of foods containing capsaicin is associated with lower body weight.1

Research has shown that capsaicin can boost metabolic rate, accelerate fat burning, decrease fat storage, increase feelings of fullness, reduce appetite, and decrease calorie intake.2

One unique way that capsaicin appears to increase calorie burn is through activation of “brown fat,” which is different from unwanted body fat (also called white adipose tissue).3 The purpose of brown fat is to burn off calories as heat in order to keep the body warm, and capsaicin’s ability to “activate” stubborn brown fat is a cutting-edge way to boost metabolism and burn body fat.4,5

Not only that, capsaicin appears to activate a compound in the body called AMPK, which helps partition carbs to muscle, not fat.6,7 Activation of AMPK also increases fat burning and reduces the body’s ability to create and store fat.8 Shuttle carbs to muscles, burn more fat, and store less…sounds awesome to me!

With all of that in mind, you might consider spicing up your meals a bit with cayenne, jalapeño, habanero, and other hot peppers. Basically, the hotter the pepper, the greater the capsaicin content, and if you’re feeling especially spicy, then you might try the bhut jolokia pepper (aka, the “ghost pepper”), which is so hot that it is often used as an elephant repellant in India!

References:

  1. Whiting S, Derbyshire E, Tiwari BK. Capsaicinoids and capsinoids. A potential role for weight management? A systematic review of the evidence. Appetite. 2012;59(2):341-348. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2012.05.015.
  2. Leung FW. Capsaicin as an anti-obesity drug. Prog Drug Res Fortschritte Arzneimittelforschung Prog Rech Pharm. 2014;68:171-179.
  3. Saito M, Yoneshiro T. Capsinoids and related food ingredients activating brown fat thermogenesis and reducing body fat in humans. Curr Opin Lipidol. 2013;24(1):71-77. doi:10.1097/MOL.0b013e32835a4f40.
  4. Chechi K, Nedergaard J, Richard D. Brown adipose tissue as an anti-obesity tissue in humans: Brown fat in humans. Obes Rev. 2014;15(2):92-106. doi:10.1111/obr.12116.
  5. Carey AL, Kingwell BA. Brown adipose tissue in humans: Therapeutic potential to combat obesity. Pharmacol Ther. 2013;140(1):26-33. doi:10.1016/j.pharmthera.2013.05.009.
  6. Hwang J-T, Park I-J, Shin J-I, et al. Genistein, EGCG, and capsaicin inhibit adipocyte differentiation process via activating AMP-activated protein kinase. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2005;338(2):694-699. doi:10.1016/j.bbrc.2005.09.195.
  7. Kurth-Kraczek EJ, Hirshman MF, Goodyear LJ, Winder WW. 5’ AMP-activated protein kinase activation causes GLUT4 translocation in skeletal muscle. Diabetes. 1999;48(8):1667-1671.
  8. O’Neill HM, Holloway GP, Steinberg GR. AMPK regulation of fatty acid metabolism and mitochondrial biogenesis: implications for obesity. Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2013;366(2):135-151. doi:10.1016/j.mce.2012.06.019.