Add spice to your life

Chili peppers add heat to food in many cultures.

Chili peppers add heat to food in many cultures.

Can you add years to your life by adding spice to your food?

I hate drawing conclusions from inconclusive research, but this was irresistible. The BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) in August published results of an observational study that examined the diets of almost a half-million people in China over seven years.

The study observed that the risk of death for those who ate spicy foods one or two days a week was 10 percent lower compared to those who ate spicy meals less than once a week. Those who ate spicy foods three to seven times a week had a 14 percent lower risk of death.

It’s a correlational, not a causational, relationship.

chili pepper 2 wikimediaChili peppers have health benefits

While the journal warned that the study shouldn’t prompt anyone to change their diet, Nita Fourouhi from Cambridge University, in an editorial accompanying the article said there have been other indications the chili pepper and its bioactive compound, capsaicin, have health benefits that include anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.

“Future research is needed to establish whether spicy food consumption has the potential to improve health and reduce mortality directly, or if it is merely a marker of other dietary and lifestyle factors,” she wrote.

Nutritionist Rosemary Stanton, a visiting fellow at the University of New South Wales, said spicy foods are known to be more satisfying. People who eat bland food are more likely to overeat.

Another British professor, Kevin McConway from the Open University, warned against using the study to justify the great English pastime of going out for a few pints and a hot curry. The relationship between eating spicy food and a lower death rate was apparent only in people who didn’t drink alcohol at all, he said.

As for me, this just makes me happy about my love of spicy foods of all kinds: Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Indian, Italian.

Indian curries have come to epitomize spicy food.

Indian curries have come to epitomize spicy food.

Don’t be a wimp!

When I go out for Thai food with a group of friends and they all order it “mild” or even (gasp!) “no spice,” I think to myself, “What a bunch of wimps!”

Though I must say it’s an acquired taste. I remember my first curry, when I was a freshman in college. A friend invited me to dinner at the home of some people who had spent some time in India, so their dish was pretty authentic. I thought I was an adventurous eater and I was very much looking forward to the meal, but to my untrained palate, it was ghastly — though I don’t think it was the heat so much as the flavor.

I really came to like curry when I lived in England for two years during and after college, and Indian/Pakistani food was about the cheapest meal you could get aside from fish and chips.

We started out with mild dishes, then graduated to more spice. How proud I was of my husband (then fiancé) when he ordered a “vindaloo,” which can be roughly translated as “set you on fire.”

Here’s a recipe for a Malaysian dish called mee goring that comes from the cookbook Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. The spice in it comes from sambal oelek, a chili paste easily found in Asian groceries. If you can’t find it, use another garlic chili paste or Sriracha, which is becoming very easy to find these days. You might need a little more Sriracha to get the same heat as you would from sambal oelek or garlic chile paste.

 

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