Good News, Hotheads: Hot Sauce Is Good for You

A new study says hot sauce is good for you, especially when paired with a little fat. (Photo: Tim Evanson/flickr)

If spicy food is your thing, you could be eating your way to better health via your favorite condiment. A recent scientific study says hot sauce is good for you, especially if it's paired with a little fat. So you can eat a Buffalo wing or two and say, "It's health food," right?

Not so fast. You need to know the facts first. Scientists have found that capsaicin, the active ingredient in peppers that makes them spicy, has a wealth of health benefits, reports Time. Capsaicin gives peppers "antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticancer effects." When half a million Chinese adults were were studied, researchers found that "those who ate spicy foods three more times a week had a 14 percent reduced risk of death, compared to those who didn't eat much spicy food."

Testing Spicy Diets

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In the lab, scientist David Popovich had some promising results when he applied capsaicin directly to cancer cells; the growth of the cells reduced. Scientists aren't sure what it is about this ingredient in hot peppers that has this effect, but they have a theory that capsaicin triggers apoptosis, "a cell 'suicide' that encourages the turnover of cells — some with mutations — to be recycled into new cells," explains Time.

And, this "cocktail of bioactive compounds" in peppers works better when blended, cut or cooked because the capsaicin is released from the pepper tissue. Pair it with fat, like oil — or the chicken fat in Buffalo wings — and the benefits increase because capsaicin is fat-soluble.

Making Your Own Hot Sauce

Roasted habanero hot sauce. (Photo: Enrique Gili)

There are so many hot sauces on the market to choose from, but you can also make your own from ingredients you trust. Try this Roasted Habanero Hot Sauce made with fresh habanero peppers, carrots, onions and some heart-healthy olive oil (for the fat) that takes only about 30 minutes to make.

Or, give one of these recipes a try, finding ways to pair the sauce with foods that contain healthy fats.

But you want to focus on getting the most of the key ingredient, hot peppers, and less of other less helpful ingredients. That means avoiding sweetened hot sauce, like sriracha, in which sugar is the second ingredient listed.