Chili peppers have long been given a warm welcome by health food lovers for the numerous benefits that they offer for wellbeing, but recent studies have linked the regular eating of chillies with an increased risk of obesity. Hot take: it’s not the chilli, it’s the ingredients we add to them that are really to blame.

Chili peppers are a fruit, and although there are more than 200 varieties of this descendant of the capsicum and nightshade families, hot or not, many people love these red and green wonders for their fiery flavor. The scorch to the taste buds is a result of different capsaicin levels in the flesh and in the seeds, but the chillies we know and love also pack a punch thanks to high amounts of vitamin C and antioxidant properties. They are anti-inflammatory and have temperature raising (thermogenic) effects that are thought to help burn energy and provide a minor aid for fat loss too. And, as if all that wasn’t enough, chillies also contain vitamin A to bolster our immunity.

Results of the Study

According to a recent analysis published in Frontiers in Nutrition, researchers were looking to follow up on the work of Chinese researchers, who found a significant association between the frequency of spicy food intake and overall obesity levels. It was confirmed in the latest study that regular chilli pepper consumption, at least once per week, could be linked to increased body mass indexes, a result that was even higher in women and adults over 60. “Our research found a positive association between increased chili consumption and both higher BMI levels and a greater prevalence of obesity,” commented the authors. “Individuals who frequently consumed chili had significantly higher average BMI figures compared to those who did not. Notably, the group with the most frequent chili consumption exhibited BMI values on average 0.71 units higher than those who abstained from chili.”

Should We Avoid Eating Chili Peppers To Lose Weight?

While the results of these studies are surely accurate, some much needed context needs to be delivered in order to make sure that chillies don’t become burned by the public. These were observational studies purely concerned with the frequency of chilli consumption and didn’t separate the indirect factors that could lead to these results. The average green chilli, weighing-in in at around 29 grams, contains just 18 calories, 3g carbs and only 0.2g fat. Chillies are also an excellent source of fiber, so why are they associated with obesity? The answer almost certainly lies in the dishes that they are added to. Chili peppers are often just one ingredient found in many less-healthy meals such as takeaway curries and other dishes that contain fat from oils or butter, and sugar from cream. An Indian madras curry for example, contains 45g carbs and 400 calories, without factoring in additional energy from regular accompaniments such as rice and naan bread. If you like to eat Asian food, a sweet chilli chicken dish could contain as much as 68% of your daily recommended sodium intake and provide 470 calories without even factoring in the noodles. Then there’s the chillies that are added to burgers, loaded friend, and fried chicken.

There’s no doubt that chili consumption can be associated with unhealthy diets, but the chilli itself is not the issue. Next time you want your fix, try cooking with raw chillies or chilli marinades that can be used for grilling instead of frying, and enjoy some of the hot stuff without all the fatty stuff!

For further information on the study click here!