8 health benefits of spicy foods

Nutrition  |  By

Think again – the 8 health benefits of spicy foods

Ditch your greasy Friday night takeaway for a veg-packed, aromatic, home-made version says Dr. Sally Norton and reap the benefits of many common spices: from a boost to brain function, immune system support and even an increased sex drive!

Curry has long been a favourite food in the UK with 9,000 curry houses and over 23 million people eating curry regularly, according to the National Curry Week website. However, how many of us associate curry with large takeaway portions of greasy food, overcooked vegetables, plates of white breads, rice and poppadums…washed down with too much lager?! Not really the first meal we think of when we decide to increase our healthy eating!

However, a curry is a great way to eat a vegetable-packed and tasty meal that can be easily and quickly cooked at home where the levels of fat, salt and sugar can be kept under control. With a portion of brown rice, some home-made tomato, mango or other fruity salsa it is a well-balanced, delicious, healthy and filling meal.

Even better news is that the spices it contains can help our health, too. Of course, the relative benefits obtained by a quick shake of these fragrant spices into the cooking pot are small – but nonetheless, read on and be inspired to spice up your dinner tonight!


Turmeric, that bright yellow spice that stains the fingers contains curcurmin – which may help boost our immune system by increasing levels of a vital protein that helps fight infection according to Adrian Gombart, an associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics in the Linus Pauling Institute.

Apparently, combining turmeric with black pepper helps absorption – a tip worth remembering.


Most would link the increased sex-drive of their men-folk on a Saturday night with the beer they have consumed rather than the curry! However, one study from the Centre for Integrative Clinical and Molecular Medicine in Australia has shown that fenugreek extract increased libido by 25% in a group of men who took the extract two times a day for six weeks. Not sure that is an excuse for a twice-daily takeaway though!


Turmeric has been shown to reduce inflammation in an experimental model of human tendons in a study from the University of Nottingham. Whether this can be used to good effect in treatments for arthritis and similar joint conditions needs further study.


Turmeric again! Cancer Research UK reports that some trials have shown that turmeric (or the curcurmin component) may prevent pre-cancerous changes from becoming cancerous. Also, some countries with high turmeric intake have lower levels of certain types of cancer – possibly reflecting a protective effect. In addition, some trials are looking at possible treatment of established cancers with turmeric extracts – but a lot more work is needed.


Capsaicin is the compound found in hot peppers and is used in creams and gels to help pain from shingles, aches and pains. It causes pain and burning in itself (as anyone who has had a hot curry knows all too well) and, in small amounts, interferes with the pain pathways back to the brain, reducing the pain felt from other causes. Clever!


In India, turmeric may be rubbed on cuts and burns to reduce infection and improve healing.


Studies from India and elsewhere show that cinnamon and curcurmin have both been associated with reducing the brain deposits that contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.


Cinnamon has been shown in animal studies to improve the action of insulin and reduce the amount of fat deposited in the liver – one of the increasing problems associated with obesity and diabetes. Of course, protecting your liver with a bit of cinnamon in your curry will be negated by too much alcohol washing it down! Ginger may also have some protective effects on the liver according to other studies.

With so many more spices present in such a huge variety of curries there are even more health benefits to be found than the ones I have described above. Adding spices is a great way to pep up your food and add flavour without relying on salt or sugar – and your body will thank you, too.

Final word:Whilst some of these spices appear to have beneficial effects, large amounts of these spices and some supplements that contain these spices may have side-effects. As with our general ethos at Vavista, we recommend eating real food in moderation and avoiding supplements unless specifically indicated or recommended by your own doctor.

For some meal inspiration, why not check out The Spicery, or try out their recipe kits and subscription boxes – www.thespicery.com.

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