NUTRITION OVER EASY: A Pepper Reality Check

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This is the kind of study that the media love:  Researchers from Purdue University report that adding a half teaspoon of cayenne pepper to your meal can reduce your appetite and cause you to burn more calories.  Count on seeing this new “fat-burning tip”  popping up on magazine covers and internet aggregation sites. Before you get too excited, however, it pays to look beyond the headlines.

Exactly How Many Extra Calories Was That?

It’s true:  Subjects who ate meals spiked with cayenne pepper burned more calories over the next five hours than those who ate the same meal without any pepper.    And just what did this metabolism-revving, calorie-burning bonanza amount to?

An extra 2 calories per hour, for a total of ten additional calories.

Whew. Don’t spend it all in one place!

And For Best Results, Don’t Make a Habit of It!

In terms of the effect on appetite, the results were a bit more meaningful.  Eating a spicy meal led some subjects to shave about 150 calories off of their next meal.  However, this appetite-suppressing effect only seemed to work in people who don’t normally eat spicy foods.  Those who habitually eat “hot” foods got no appetite-suppressing effect.

So it works, but only if you don’t do it…which would seem to undercut the usefulness of this strategy.

Good Research, Bad Reporting

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m dissing the work of these investigators. The results are actually very interesting, giving rise to all sorts of interesting new questions and possibilities for useful research.  But as a weight-loss strategy–which is how this will play in the mainstream media–it is virtually useless.

Source: Ludy MJ, Mattes RD. The effects of hedonically acceptable red pepper doses on thermogenesis and appetite. Physiol Behav. 2011 Mar 1;102(3-4):251-8.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21093467

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About Monica Reinagel

A licensed nutritionist, noted author, and trained chef, Monica Reinagel, MS, LN, CNS, is creator of the #1-ranked Nutrition Diva podcast (http://nutritiondiva.quickanddirtytips.com/), author of the Nutrition Over Easy blog (http://nutritionovereasy.com/), and is a frequent contributor to leading health and lifestyle websites and magazines.
Monica's books include Amazon best-seller The Inflammation Free Diet Plan, as well as The Life Extension Revolution: The New Science of Growing Older without Aging (with Philip Miller, M.D.) and The Secrets of Evening Primrose Oil. Her latest book is Secrets for a Healthy Diet: What to Eat, What to Avoid, and What to Stop Worrying About (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0312676417).
Monica holds a Master's Degree in Human Nutrition and is a board-certified nutrition specialist. She's the creator of the IF Rating system, a scientific method of predicting the inflammatory or anti-inflammatory effects of foods. Professional affiliations include the American Dietetic Association, the American College of Nutrition, the Association of Health Care Journalists, and the International Association of Culinary Professionals. She makes her home in Baltimore, MD. Connect with Monica on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/NutritionDiva).

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