Hot chillies can improve dieting
The claim: eating chillies can help you lose weight.
The straight answer: yes
The facts: if you're trying to slim down, you might want to start adding a little spice to your meals. In addition to their high vitamin C and beta-carotene content, red chillies also contain a group of chemicals called capsaicinoids, and their sister compounds capsinoids, which are believed to play a beneficial role in weight management. These chemicals are found in the white membrane in the chilli and are what give the pungent pod its "heat". They bind to a receptor called TRPV1, a pain nerve cell located underneath the top layer of the tongue, causing that familiar burning sensation.
The TRPV1 receptor also detects and regulates body temperature, according to registered dietitian Charmain Tan from Seventeen Nutrition Consultants.
According to a 2012 study carried out by researchers Stephen Whiting, Emma Derbyshire and B. K. Tiwari, capsaicinoids fight flab in three ways: by boosting the body's fat-burning abilities, speeding up the metabolism and reducing energy intake by suppressing hunger pangs.
Regular consumption of chillies was specifically observed to reduce abdominal fat, which is known to increase one's risk of heart disease.
A University of California at Los Angeles study conducted in 2010 also found that, when included as part of a low-calorie diet, chillies push the body to burn stored fat as fuel and aid weight loss by raising body temperature, a process called thermo-genesis.
And in yet another 2010 study performed by researchers in Korea, capsaicinoids were shown to have a significant inhibitory effect against the build-up of body fat.
How these compounds work is not understood, but it is thought that they act on the TRPV1 receptor to decrease hunger, increase satiety, reduce insulin, and increase energy expenditure.
Is your stomach sensitive to large amounts of chilli? You don't have to overdose on the stuff to enjoy its effects. Brian Leung, a naturopathic doctor from the Integrated Medicine Institute says that consuming one-fiftieth of an average-sized red chilli per day can burn 60 to 120 calories. For something less spicy, go for green chillies, which also boast some fat-fighting properties.
Capsaicinoid supplements may produce negative side effects such as stomach discomfort, heartburn and ulcers, so do not take these without consulting your doctor.
Despite their impressive fat-burning and appetite-reducing powers, chillies are not the magic bullet for weight loss, says Daphne Wu, a British state-registered dietitian and Hong Kong PhD researcher. Weight loss occurs when you expend more calories than you take in.
The Whiting study found that regular consumption of chillies burned about 50 calories a day, resulting in a significant weight loss after one to two years.
But Wu says that you can shed the same number of calories by drinking one-third less of a can of cola or walking one kilometre a day.
But there is no denying that, as part of a healthy and balanced diet, this small, fiery fruit can play an active and important role in weight management.