Spicy food is something you either love or hate, depending perhaps on whether or not you’re a supertaster (someone who tastes certain foods far more intensely than others).

But if you’re in the ‘love chilli’ camp there’s good news. According to an Italian study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, people who eat chilli regularly are 23 per cent less likely to die of any cause than those who don’t eat it.

Analysing information gathered from more than 22,000 people from the Molise region of Italy, the researchers – from research centres in Pozzilli, Rome and Naples – found those who ate chillies four times a week or more were 40 per cent less likely to die of a heart attack than chilli haters. They also discovered the chilli eaters had half the risk of dying from a cerebrovascular condition than the non-chilli eaters. And the effect was the same whether they ate healthily or not.

“An interesting fact is that protection from mortality risk was independent of the type of diet people followed,” explains Marialaura Bonaccio, the study’s lead author. “In other words, someone can follow the healthy Mediterranean diet, someone else can eat less healthily, but for all of them, chilli pepper has a protective effect.”

It’s about time the health-giving properties of chilli and its active ingredient capsaicin were investigated seriously, says Licia Iacoviello, director of one of the research institutes involved in the study, the IRCCS Neuromed in Pozzilli.

“Chilli pepper is a fundamental component of our food culture,” she says. “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. And now, as already observed in China and in the United States, we know that the various plants of the capsicum species, although consumed in different ways throughout the world, can exert a protective action toward health.”

Can’t stand – or can’t tolerate – chilli? Try taking a capsaicin supplement if you don’t want to miss out on the health benefits.

Photo by Fabienne Hübener on Unsplash