The Surprising Benefits of Eating Super-Spicy Food for Every Single Meal

PHOTO © CHRISTINA HOLMES
The writer may have burned off some tongue cells, but she lost 2 lbs.

Whether or not you enjoy it, spicy food is good for you. Studies have shown that eating foods doused in Tabasco or Gochujang could make you live longer than your heat-averse counterparts.

After finding myself in an early-spring rut of eating off-brand Lucky Charms for breakfast, fruit snacks for lunch and four servings of whole-wheat spaghetti for dinner, I decided to take a positive action for my health. Never one to approach anything in a balanced way, I embarked on an extreme week-long challenge: eating super-spicy foods for every meal for five days. As someone who enjoys – and was raised on – spicy foods, I expected to have a wonderful time, made difficult only by the lack of regular doughnut consumption.

With a clear heart and cabinet full of sriracha, red pepper flakes, Korean hot sauce and extra hot salsa, I began my first morning with scrambled eggs, which I smothered in red pepper flakes and hot sauce. As anyone could have predicted, the dish was fiery and acidic, hurting my throat and burning the spots on my lips that I pick at. But eggs and hot sauce at least go together – there were some good flavors happening! I chased the meal with a tablespoon of peanut butter, and I already felt revitalized, clearly a trick my mind was playing. I went for a run.

After a lunch and dinner of covering my food in the fieriest hot sauces beyond recognition, I noticed that I was drinking more water – already a positive result. (People tell me water is important, though Diet Coke has my heart.) The second day, I repeated my pink eggs for breakfast, and for lunch, I sautéed a package of spinach with olive oil, garlic and two full tablespoons of red pepper flakes, which I ate alongside spicy sausage that I made spicier with a 10-second stream of sriracha. That one hurt. I ate it slowly and washed it down with a cup of almond milk. While I finished the plate, I wasn’t hungry for my usual post-meal handful of cereal. Dinner was a similar story.

When I woke up on day three, the idea of starting the day with something spicy and savory – which many people do, all around the world -- was so daunting to me that I didn’t eat anything. It’s worth noting that I have never, ever skipped breakfast. By lunch I was starving, but still reluctant to eat. I ordered the spiciest dish from my nearby Thai place – basil chicken, extra spicy, four flame icons, “make it three times as spicy as you normally do” – and ate as much as I could before I lost feeling in my mouth.

Pacific Standard recently posted an article on three studies that found “strong evidence that consumption of, or exposure to, spicy food evokes aggression-related thoughts,” a thesis many readers on Twitter found to be poorly-researched and ignorant of the long history of racist and xenophobic responses to ethnic foods. In my highly-unscientific, five-day experiment, I have further doubts about the study. I did not feel more aggressive. In fact, I felt mostly tired, but I think that’s because I always feel sort of tired. I did find myself fantasizing about taking long baths in whole milk. That was an interesting development.

By day five, the only measurable change I had noticed from eating exclusively spicy foods for every meal was not in my personality – rather, I had lost 2 lbs. Sure enough, spicy foods have been shown to help curb appetites and boost your metabolism, so this didn’t come as a shock. Also, as mentioned earlier, I had stopped eating doughnuts. Devastating, but effective.

Since I don’t know when I’m going to die, I can’t yet speak to the effects these foods have had on my longevity – though a 2015 study found that increased chili-intake can reduce the risk of death by 14%, compared to the most spice-averse group. I’ll report back to you on that. For now, I’m going to eat a package of Peeps.

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