If you're a fan of red-hot chili, you may have a slight calorie-burning edge over your friends who can't take the heat. And because you lose weight by burning more calories than you consume, a spicy palate could help you achieve your diet goals when paired with a sensible eating plan. Even with the hottest chili, however, the effect is too minimal to make up for an over-sized serving.
A Burning Effect
Although some research suggests that capsaicin, which is a compound in hot peppers, can help appetite suppression, there isn't any solid data to determine if the chemical plays a role in weight loss, according to a 2012 ABC News article. Researchers set out to evaluate if hot peppers could increase calorie burning when consumed as part of a regular meal, according to a study published in "Physiology & Behavior" in March 2011. The study authors noted that while previous studies show that concentrated pepper can boost metabolism, testing was usually performed using a greater quantity of pepper than most people would enjoy. In their own study, which involved 25 participants of which 13 were given red peppers, researchers found that participants burned more calories after eating a meal containing 1 gram of red pepper than after a meal containing no red pepper, confirming that a spicy dish can indeed increase your metabolism. The study results, however, also suggest that individuals may become desensitized to the effects of red pepper with long-term spicy food intake.
No food has the power to single handedly cause weight loss, so don't base your diet strategy solely on eating spicy chili. Metabolism-boosting foods have only a minimal effect, and drowning your meal in red pepper doesn't give you license to eat a larger helping, notes Manuel Villacorta, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D. The bottom line is that any increase in calorie burning is only temporary, and will diminish soon after you stop eating.
Ultimately, it's the number of calories in your chili -- not the heat level -- that will determine how diet-friendly your meal is. Although calorie counts vary, 1 cup of canned chili with beans contains about 287 calories, while a full chili portion from one major restaurant chain contains about 400 calories. For perspective, the average moderately active man burns 2,400 to 2,800 calories a day, and the average woman burns 1,800 to 2,200 calories per day. So while one serving of chili fits into a healthy diet, eating two or more could contribute to weight gain.
A Meaningful Boost in Your Metabolism
Although the effects of hot pepper on weight loss are slight, there's good news for those seeking a more significant metabolic boost. Because muscle tissue is more active than fat tissue, you can speed up all-day calorie burning with strength-training exercises such as lifting weights or doing pushups, crunches and squats. For best results, perform these exercises at least twice weekly, incorporating all major muscle groups into your routine.
- Physiology & Behavior: The Effects of Hedonically Acceptable Red Pepper Doses on Thermogenesis and Appetite
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Metabolism Myths and Facts
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Chili with Beans, Canned
- Nutritionix.com: Applebee's Chili
- Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion: Estimated Calorie Needs per Day by Age, Gender, and Physical Activity Level
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity do Adults Need?
- ABC News: The World's Hottest Pepper: Brings Pleasure and Pain