Can bringing on the heat with peppers could help you burn fat and lose weight? Several studies have found that hot peppers could be a thermogenic food that helps you burn calories. And new research suggests that black pepper may have a compound that prevents fat cells from forming.
In theory, when you eat a thermogenic food, your core temperature rises, which speeds up your metabolism. Studies have produced limited evidence that spicy foods such as pepper and ginger have thermogenic qualities. Research on capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers, has been shown to increase calorie burning in humans. What about black pepper?
Black pepper: enemy of fat cells?
Researchers at the University of South Korea say they may have identified the mechanism in black pepper that gives it potential as a viable treatment for obesity. Their study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, suggests that piperine, the compound in black pepper that makes you sneeze, inhibits the formation of new fat cells.
Using petri dishes and computer models, the Korean scientists investigated the effects of piperine on gene expression in fat tissue. They found that piperine interfered with the activity of genes programmed to form new fat cells. Inhibiting the genes creates a chain reaction that helps keep fat from forming.
Red hot chili peppers
Scientists at UCLA have found that capsaicin, the compound that brings the burn in chili peppers, may help your body burn more fat, as well as focus on using fat to do it. An earlier study suggested lighting up with an appetizer containing capsaicin in the form of cayenne pepper could lead you to eat fewer calories during the main course. Capsaicin may also decrease body fat by stimulating catecholamine, a stress hormone.
As usual, the benefits suggested in studies come with caveats. Even though there are dozens of cayenne or piperine extracts and supplements available, researchers at Purdue University have found that just like the nutrients in food, a supplement isn’t nearly as effective. You have to actually feel the burn of pepper to be affected. What’s more, once you develop a tolerance for the heat, the effects dissipate.
Feel the burn
Unfortunately, you wont’ be able to suppress your fat cell development with an extra dose of fresh ground pepper on your salad either. The mouse cells used in the Korean study were loaded with concentrations of piperine 100 times greater than a human could accumulate in the bloodstream by eating black pepper.
Still, there’s no downside to eating more black pepper or cayenne. If adding some zing to a healthy meal helps burn a few more calories and a little bit of fat, why not hold off before saying “when?”