Eating Chilli Probably Isn't Going To Help You Lose Weight

Sad spice.
Spice is nice.
Spice is nice.

Regardless of where you stand on the mild/medium/hot measuring scale, you've probably heard about some of the purported health benefits associated with eating chilli.

Often touted as a vitamin-packed miracle metabolism-booster, chillis have made the news time and time again for their role in assisting weight loss. But given the average person only eats a small amount of chilli per day (if that), will chowing down on chilli actually make a significant difference to your weight? Or is it all a bunch of hot air?

"I tend to think the health benefits of chillis are a little bit overrated," Themis Chryssidis, accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, told The Huffington Post Australia.

"The main thing people tend to talk about is how chilli speeds up your metabolism, or your metabolic rate. While this is true, it's only slightly and not a sustained increase, it's a short burst.

"If you really want to be speeding up your metabolism, you'd be better off sticking to the traditional methods of eating well and increasing your lean muscle mass at the gym. I wouldn't be swapping the gym for a chilli-rich diet, that's for sure."

Chilli necklaces... the new rage?
Chilli necklaces... the new rage?

As far as the claim that chillis are rich in vitamins, Chryssidis again says that while this is true, it's not significantly more than other fruits and veggies on the market.

"They are rich in vitamin C, fibre, potassium and other B vitamins, but probably in no higher quantities than other fruit or vegetables," Chryssidis said.

"Then there's the practical application of it as well. You're more likely to consume other fruits and veggies much more freely than you would chillis, so the question is whether you would realistically eat enough chilli to actively benefit from those vitamins and minerals."

According to Chryssidis, much of the hype surrounding chilli comes from studies which focus on a particular subgroup of non-Australian populations.

"It comes from people who look at healthier populations as groups and say, 'these other people are a normal weight, they have a lower risk of heart disease, and look, they eat heaps of chilli, so that must be why'," he said.

Chillis for days.
Chillis for days.

"But to extrapolate one kind of lifestyle behaviour and try to inject that into our lifestyle is incredibly naïve. Most Australians don't have the threshold to consume the same amount of chilli [as other nationalities] and, aside from that, it also largely comes down to other contributing lifestyle factors.

"For instance, the same group of people who have chilli-rich diets might not eat 300 gram steaks on a Tuesday night like they do in Australia.

"I don't think it's as easy as taking one key component in a healthy diet and trying to apply it to our diet. You can't put all your eggs in one basket like that."

According to Chryssidis, where chilli does come into play in the Australian diet is as a guilt-free flavour enhancer.

"The biggest bonus about chilli is it adds flavour to what you're eating," Chryssidis said. "And by adding that chilli flavour to a dish, we can enjoy other products we might not necessarily eat or enjoy if we had them on their own."

Use chilli as a flavour enhancer rather than the 'key' to losing weight.
Use chilli as a flavour enhancer rather than the 'key' to losing weight.

"Nutritionally, chilli is far better in terms of a flavour-add than heaps of salt," Chryssidis continued. "It's far better than salts and butters and sugars.

"On top of that, it provides a small amount of nutrition, so it does actually provide some nutritional benefit whereas salts and sugars and things actually have a detrimental effect on our health.

"I think it's definitely important to point out I'm not saying chillis aren't great or they can't be a great part of a healthy diet.

"But at the end of the day, the way we consume them means they don't have a significant health impact, and there are lots of other things we need to be sure we are doing to make sure we are healthy as well."