Eating chili peppers four times a week could cut your risk of dying from a heart attack, scientists claim.
Researchers tracked almost 23,000 volunteers for eight years, regularly quizzing them about their diet.
Results showed adults who ate chili peppers frequently, deemed four times each week, were less likely to die prematurely.
And they were 40 per cent less likely to die from a heart attack, according to the Italian academics behind the study.
Experts found chilis even benefited the hearts of volunteers whose diets were not considered healthy.
Capsaicin – an anti-inflammatory compound and the substances that creates the burning sensation – is thought to be behind the benefit.
Eating chili peppers four times a week cuts your risk of suffering a heart attack by 40 per cent, scientists in Italy claim after analysing 23,000 people’s diet
However, the researchers at Instituto Neurologico Mediterraneo Neuromed (IRCCS) in Pozzilli did not prove chilis helped the heart.
All of the participants lived in the Molise region of Italy, home of the Mediterranean diet – considered the healthiest in the world.
Volunteers self-reported how often they ate foods containing chili pepper – never, occasionally, often and very often.
Each person’s diet was scored on a scale of zero to nine, based on how well they adhered to the traditional Mediterranean diet.
EXPLAINED: THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET
Consuming more fruit and fish, and fewer sugary drinks and snacks, are the most important aspects of a Mediterranean diet.
- Whole grains
- Fish and meat
- Monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil
- Saturated fats, like butter
- Red meat
- Processed foods, like juice and white bread
- A glass of red wine here and there is fine
How you can follow it:
- Eat more fish
- Squeeze more fruit & veg into every meal
- Swap your sunflower oil or butter for extra virgin olive oil
- Snack on nuts
- Eat fruit for dessert
The diet is abundant in vegetables, fruits and nuts, legumes, fish and fats such as olive oil. Red meat is rarely eaten and dairy and eggs are limited.
Chili eaters typically adhered to the Mediterranean diet, with fruit and veg commonly roasted and added to fish dishes or added in to pasta.
Over an average follow up of eight years, 1,236 people died. A third of deaths were from cancer, while heart disease claimed a similar amount.
Regular consumption of chili was reported by 24 per cent of people. A third said they never ate chili.
People who ate chili four times a week were 23 per cent less likely to die over the course of the study.
Risk of death from a heart attack or coronary heart disease was 40 and 34 per cent lower for regular chili eaters, respectively.
Death rates from cancer were only 10 per cent lower in the non-chili eater group, meaning the result was not significant.
The findings, which are merely observational, were published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Marialaura Bonaccio, first author, said: ‘An interesting fact is that protection from mortality risk was independent of the type of diet people followed.
‘In other words, someone can follow the healthy Mediterranean diet, someone else can eat less healthily, but for all of them chili pepper has a protective effect.’
Dr Licia Iacoviello, co-author, said: ‘Chili pepper is a fundamental component of our food culture. We see it hanging on Italian balconies, and even depicted in jewels.
‘Over the centuries, beneficial properties of all kinds have been associated with its consumption, mostly on the basis of anecdotes or traditions, if not magic.
‘It is important now that research deals with it in a serious way, providing rigor and scientific evidence.’
He added: ‘We know that the various plants of the capsicum species… can exert a protective action towards our health.’
The team said further studies are needed to understand how consumption of chili can affect health.
They originally hypothesised chili eaters would be slimmer, owing to the fact spicy food can aid weight loss.
But this was ruled out because chili eaters in the study were more likely to be obese, have diabetes and high cholesterol.
What is known is that capsicum, an active ingredient in chili, contains a large variety of phytochemicals with well-known antioxidant properties.
Those who ate chili were also more likely to eat garlic, parsley and black pepper, the results showed.