Heat-lovers already know hot sauces are delicious in all their many varied forms, but what exactly are they doing to your body? Is hot sauce good for you? Or is the flip side true? Is hot sauce bad for you?
The short of it: Hot sauces are actually very good for you, but there are a few caveats. Read on to get the skinny about these kickin’ condiments.
Hot sauce is full of vitamins and minerals.
Hot sauce has a range of potential health benefits due to its nearly nonexistent calorie count, a variety of vitamins and minerals, as well as its appetite-suppressing qualities. Regardless of heat factor, peppers generally contain essential nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, potassium, niacin, folate, iron, and magnesium, not to mention a healthy dose of fiber. Interestingly, allowing a pepper to fully ripen increases its nutritional value, so making a hot sauce from fully mature chilies adds even more impact.
Hot sauce is diet-friendly and nature’s greatest appetite suppressant.
A teaspoon of some hot sauces have zero – count ’em, zero – calories. Others, only a scant few. This condiment is quite literally a free pass to flavor. The intensity and spice of any given pepper will depend on the amount of capsaicin it contains. Capsaicin is a colorless phytochemical found in varying degrees in many peppers. Sweet bell peppers contain very little capsaicin, while habanero peppers are very rich in the compound and are therefore significantly hotter. Hot peppers gain in capsaicin as they age, so, again, making a hot sauce from fully ripened peppers will only increase the benefits.
Additionally, the heat properties of capsaicin may make it an effective appetite suppressant and weight loss tool. A 2009 study published in “Clinical Nutrition” found that by combining capsaicin and green tea, participants experienced a feeling of increased fullness and took in fewer calories.
In other words, a few dashes of flavor-boosting hot sauce on your favorite foods can actually help you consume less and still feel satisfied.
Flip Side: Is hot sauce bad for you?
Though it should be clear from the above information that hot sauce is a very healthy food to add to your diet, it is possible to go overboard. Spicy foods can cause a gastrointestinal reaction in some people, especially in those with weak stomachs or women during pregnancy.
Another potential pitfall is the inadvertent transfer of capsaicin to mucous membranes; in other words, if hot sauce or anything with capsaicin gets in your eyes or nose, it’s going to sting. If this happens, forget about water; try pouring cold milk on the affected area instead. Milk may help neutralize the burning sensation.
Could capsaicin be a cancer-killer?
Though further research is needed to explore the relationship, there is evidence to suggest capsaicin may destroy cancer cells – or rather, cause the cells to destroy themselves – through a process called apoptosis. Apoptosis is programmed cell death, sometimes described as cellular suicide; this is opposed to necrosis, which refers to a cell receiving damage from, say, a poison or disease.
A 2013 study published on the National Institutes of Health website cites observations that suggest “anticancer activity of capsaicin” when treating certain cancer cells with the compound. This is an incredibly exciting concept for scientists looking to make progress in the fight against all forms of cancer, though they are far from understanding exactly how capsaicin affects the cellular progression of healthy and unhealthy cells.
So, is hot sauce good for you? All signs point to yes, so feel free to indulge as much as your tongue and tummy allow!