A healthy diet and exercise will always be the best way to manage your weight, but who of us doesn’t keep an open mind when it comes to easier, natural solutions?
Drinking lemon water has been a huge weight-management trend for years (even though the effects are minimal), but it’s about to get its butt kicked by cayenne pepper. This nightshade (a semi-controversial group of flowering plants which yield foods like tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and other peppers) is responsible for not only making your dishes more delectable, but giving your health a boost.
The cayenne pepper powder you buy at the grocery store is entirely made from ground cayenne peppers, whereas chili powder (which cayenne pepper is often confused for) is a pepper-based spice made with other plant products like garlic. Its main active ingredient? Capsaicin, a compound that gives the pepper its spicy zing—along with its health-boosting benefits.
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So how does cayenne pepper work for weight loss?
Clinical nutritionist Tara Coleman, who specializes in weight loss, tells her clients that cayenne pepper can have a slight metabolic effect—specifically due to its thermogenic effects.
Thermogenesis, put simply, is a warm-bloodied organism’s process of heat production (basically, when your temperature rises). When the food you eat takes more energy (calories) to digest than were actually found in the food, that’s known as diet-induced thermogenesis. This process kicks your body heat into gear, increasing your metabolism.
Research seems to back up the theory: A review published in the journal Open Heart showed that ingesting capsaicin (the study had people take nine mg daily) can have positive effects on metabolic rate and fat oxidation, breaking down large fat molecules so they don’t stay large and stack up, leading to weight gain—all conducive to weight control.
And according to a study conducted by the International Journal of Obesity, cayenne pepper may help you stay fuller for longer, and not eat as much to begin with. The study found that subjects who took nine grams of capsaicin supplements consumed 10 percent less food, and subjects who drank a capsaicin-containing beverage consumed 16 percent less.
Another contributor to satiety: “Eating cayenne adds heat and spice to slow down how quickly you eat. Adding it as a toping to dishes can cut down on your speed and, in a roundabout way, cause you to eat less,” Coleman says.
Taking Cayenne Pepper
Cayenne pepper is a super-versatile spice used in plenty of cuisines. You can add a dash or two of the powder to pasta, soup, eggs, tacos, chicken dishes, and even healthy detox drinks. You can also mix it into salad dressings and barbecue sauce.
If you don’t like spicy foods, you might want to get your cayenne through a supplement. Most supps will require you to take one or two capsules per day, each time with a meal. Cayenne also comes in liquid form.
Related: Shop cayenne capsules and liquids.
Cayenne isn’t for everyone, however: The capsules may cause acid reflux. If you have gastrointestinal issues, such as an ulcer, talk to your doctor before adding cayenne supps to your daily regimen.
People who take blood-thinners should also check with their doc before regularly consuming cayenne pepper, as it could possibly increase the risk of bleeding, according to the American Journal of Health System Pharmacy.
The Bottom Line
“As with anything, an excess is probably not the best thing for you,” says Coleman. “It would be hard to overdose on cayenne pepper, but if you eat too much, you may notice irritation in your mouth or experience diarrhea.”
Lastly, if weight loss is your goal, you’ll do well to adopt an exercise regimen and build healthy-eating habits. Because, as Mayo Clinic says, cayenne isn’t a miracle supplement. It doesn’t burn fat—but it does help to increase satiety and promote the healthy function of your metabolic system as part of a larger weight-management plan.