Some like it hot; I’m one of them. I order the spiciest green curry on the menu, ask for extra jalapeños on a taco salad and eat peperoncini straight out of the jar. But I didn’t always have a thing for fiery food. In fact, I spent the majority of my life steering clear of anything with even the slightest kick.
Then, sometime in my twenties, my taste buds evolved. I’d love to blame it on pregnancy–when I was expecting my daughter, I practically lived on hot sauce–but the truth was, I was already getting used to it. And you know what? I’m thinner now than I was when I stuck to bland fare. I’m not going to say that spicy food is entirely to thank–but given the recent research on chili peppers’ ability to boost metabolism and burn fat, I can’t help but think red hot obsession has something to do with it.
Among the evidence, a new study from the University of California at Los Angeles found that obese people who went on a low calorie diet and also took a pill containing dihydrocapsiate (DCT), a compound in peppers that’s similar to capsaicin (the compound that makes chilis hot) burned 100 to 200 more calories a day than those who followed the same diet but took a placebo pill. In another new study, scientists fed rats high-fat diets either with or without capsaicin. The rats who consumed capsaicin lost eight percent of their body weight–in spite of all the fat they were chowing on–and improved levels of fat-disolving proteins. And a study from Canadian researchers revealed that people who ate a spicy appetizer before a meal consumed 200 fewer calories during the meal than those who had a non-spicy appetizer, suggesting that chilis may have appetite-thwarting abilities.
No tolerance for heat? Here’s how to warm up to spicy food:
- Go with what you know. Adjust by trying things that aren’t completely foreign to your palate. Instead of buying a totally new type of salsa, for example, go with your favorite brand–but get medium instead of mild. If you’re not wild about Indian food, but love Thai, then ask the kitchen to make a slightly spicier version of your go-to dish, and so on.
- Give it time. Experts estimate that it takes weeks–and in some cases even months–of regular exposure to get used to hot food. Oh, and by the way? Unless you want serious indigestion, don’t gulp your food down. Take small bites and eat slowly.
- Temper it. There’s a reason why many of the spiciest dishes are served with bread or rice; the base flavor and course texture of carbs give your tongue more to focus on than just the peppers you just consumed. Can’t stand the heat? Skip water and have a glass of cold milk; the protein it contains will help combat the fire of the capsaicins. (People swear that sucking on a spoonful of sugar works, too, although I’ve never tried this.)