It's known for giving foods a spicy kick, but can cayenne pepper help with weight loss? Research shows it might actually help by boosting metabolism and suppressing appetite.
Cayenne pepper (Capsicum annum) is made from dried hot chili peppers. Its primary active ingredient, capsaicin, is responsible for its heat and also its impressive health benefits and potential weight loss effects.
Capsaicin is a very strong compound and pain reliever which, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMM) is commonly found in skin treatment creams and pepper spray. UMM also indicates that cayenne supplements may promote weight loss by helping people feel full and suppressing appetite; however, they are careful to say that more studies are needed.
What the Studies Show
Although much of the evidence supporting the use of cayenne pepper for weight loss is anecdotal, some studies are promising. Here's what they've shown:
- WebMD reports that a study supported by the McCormick Spice Company and the National Institutes of Health found that eating cayenne pepper may help suppress appetite and burn calories. Normal-weight participants who were given 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper with food or in capsule form burned ten times more calories in a four hour period than when they did not consume the pepper. The study was published in Physiology and Behavior.
- In a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2003, participants who were given capsaicin burned more body fat than those given a placebo, according to an Organic Lifestyle magazine article. In addition, actually tasting the fiery spice resulted in reduced food cravings compared to taking it in capsule form.
The Master Cleanse
One way cayenne pepper is used for weight loss is through the Master Cleanse, a detox juice fast diet developed by alternative health practitioner Stanley Burroughs. The diet is meant to promote weight loss, cleanse the digestive system and heal the body. No solid food is allowed, although you can drink herbal teas, and taking regular laxatives is required. This diet is also known as the Lemonade Diet, the Cayenne Pepper Diet and the Maple Syrup diet.
According to the Master Cleanse website, the primary drink used in the diet is fresh lemon juice, maple syrup, water and cayenne pepper. They state that cayenne pepper is the diet's "secret weapon" thanks to its ability to increase metabolism and circulation and break up mucous in the body.
Effective and Controversial
Most people lose weight on the Master Cleanse, but the diet is controversial. It's unclear if people lose weight due to the cayenne and other ingredients or if it's simply because caloric intake is so low and laxatives are used. And because caloric intake is so low, if the diet is done on a regular basis, there is a risk of the body's metabolism actually slowing down as a result of the reduced calories.
According to US News and World Report, "Master Cleanse doesn't reflect widely accepted guidelines for weight loss or a healthy lifestyle." In addition, there are serious potential risks to the cleanse thanks to the diet's lack of nutrients and heavy use of laxatives, especially over the long term. As a result, if you are considering using cayenne pepper as part of a detox diet, you should first consult your doctor.
Adding Cayenne to Your Diet
Cayenne is surprisingly versatile and can be added to many foods. If you're not a fan of spicy foods, you can purchase cayenne pepper in capsule form. But if you don't mind a little culinary heat, try these easy ways to incorporate cayenne into your diet. Just remember that a little bit of cayenne pepper goes a long way. Depending on the recipe, one teaspoon or less is usually more than sufficient.
- Stir into mayonnaise, softened butter, salad dressings or marinades
- Use in your favorite dry rub recipe
- Sprinkle to taste on corn on the cob, French fries or scrambled eggs
- Combine a pinch or two with a bit of olive oil or butter and Parmesan cheese for a delicious popcorn topping
- Add to Mexican dishes such as tacos, burritos, fajitas or enchiladas
Part of a Healthy Eating Plan
A definitive verdict is still out and more research is needed as to whether or not cayenne pepper can help with weight loss. Although some studies show cayenne can help burn calories, researchers are careful to point out it's not a quick fix and only one part of a healthy eating and exercise plan.
If you enjoy spicy foods as part of a healthy diet, then cayenne pepper may very well help you reach your weight loss goals. Please consult your doctor before using cayenne for weight loss.