Experts Explain Why Hot Sauce Is Good For You

Dec 07, 2015 07:52 AM EST | By Maria Leonila Masculino

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Hot sauce may sting your tongue but experts say its health benefits make it worth the spice.

TIME Magazine reports that David Popovich of Massey University in New Zealand studied the health effects of hot sauce and found out that the active ingredient in peppers called capsaicin could kill cancer cells.

Popovich, who studies bioactive compounds in plants, used capsaicin on top of cancer cells for his experiment.  He discovered that capsaicin could reduce growth of cancer cells through a process called apoptosis --- a sort of cell "suicide" which eventually recycles them into new cells with the help of some mutations.

"That's one of the ways scientists think capsaicin and other active compounds in vegetables can prevent cancer development by stimulating apoptotic cell death," Popovich said.

The hotter the pepper, the greater its capsaicin content. But that doesn't necessarily mean the hottest pepper is the healthiest, though. According to vegetable bioactive compounds researcher Jose De Jesus Ornelas-Paz, the interaction between capsaicin and other compounds is actually what makes peppers good for you.

"Pungent peppers are a cocktail of bioactive compounds," the professor at the Research Center for Food and Development in Mexico explained, and capsaicin depends on these compounds for its healthy effects. "Blending, cutting and cooking improve the release of [these compounds] from pepper tissue, increasing the amount available for absorption," Paz added.

You might be thinking eating fat isn't really healthy but capsaicin actually works best with it, according to Popovich. "Capsaicin is a fat-soluble molecule," he said. Pairing peppers with oil apparently makes the body absorb more capsaicin than eating them with raw vegetables.

Popovich, who basically puts hot sauce "on everything," suggests the ideal hot sauce has red habanero peppers, vinegar, little salt and some garlic. "Hot peppers are really beneficial for you, he said, "if you can take the spice."

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