Summer dieting can be pretty tricky to nail down. Aside from wanting foods that are healthy and nutritious, it can be hard to find meals that are hydrating and keep you energized in the heat of the season. Things like watermelon, cucumbers, and ‘lots of water are of course crucial, but there’s another food group that has the potential to help you out in the summer—spicy food.
For some, spicy food is a painful option to order at dinner. Think how you’d feel eating jalapeño peppers at the beach. Most likely, you’d be unpleasantly hot, sweaty, and uncomfortable ingesting something that matches the heat around you. On the other hand, spicy foods can sometimes work in your favor to help cool your body naturally, similar to the way sweating helps decrease your body temperature.
To help us out with this concept a bit more, we chatted with Leah Silberman, registered dietician and founder of Tovita Nutrition. Read on for her thoughts on spicy food in the summer.
What are the benefits of spicy food?
Foods flavored with spices like cumin, ginger, chile, etc. are thought to have a host of health benefits. Studies have shown adding spices to your diet can influence longevity, metabolism, and inflammation.
Are there any things to watch out for when eating spicy foods?
Some studies also suggest they may play a role in inhibiting cancer cell growth. Personally, I believe it's important to use organic spices when cooking as much as possible. Conventional spices likely contain residual pesticide residue and the best way to avoid it is to buy organic.
Can spicy foods be beneficial or harmful to eat in the heat of the summer?
I vote net beneficial! However, it's important to know your personal threshold for spice. Don't make yourself uncomfortable and go overboard on the spicy peppers if it gives you unpleasant side effects.
How can spicy foods help regulate digestion or other issues?
I don't know that spicy foods can help regulate digestion and I wouldn't necessarily turn to spicy foods to correct a certain health issue, but I do know that the research points to lots of overall health benefits. The etiology of so much disease tends to be inflammation, and spices (including spicy spices) are some of the greatest anti-inflammatory agents out there.
Furthermore, a 2015 study published in the BMJ found that those who consumed spicy food between 6-7x per week compared with people who consumed it once or less than once a week, showed a risk reduction in overall mortality. This alone is a great reason to spice up your diet!
Any suggestions for incorporating spicy foods into your diet?
Spices can be consumed raw, dried, or whole ground, so it's great to experiment and find what works best for you. Spices can be added into almost anything—eggs, salads, dressings, smoothies, lattes (yes, turmeric lattes are everywhere right now!), whole grain pasta dishes. Don't be afraid to reach into your spice cabinet and try something new!
Leah Silberman is a registered dietitian with a masters in clinical nutrition and the founder of Tovita Nutrition, a virtual nutrition counseling service. Check out @tovitanutrition for a daily dose of nutrition inspo and recipe suggestions.