In a study of 15,683 rural Chinese aged 35 to 74, researchers from Zhengzhou University found people who ate spicy food were prone to general obesity and had a higher body mass index. The study was done from July 2015 to September 2016 in Henan Province, reports NutraIngredients-Asia.
The researchers said a preference for spicy flavor and the frequency of eating spicy food were positively associated with general obesity. However, they noted other contributing factors may include oil used when cooking spicy dishes and the carbohydrate-rich foods often consumed at the same time to help moderate the heat.
Due to those factors, the researchers said additional research was needed before more direct conclusions could be drawn. "This cross-sectional study only determined the association between spicy food consumption and general obesity, but failed to establish and cause-and-effect relationship," they said. The study was published in December in the journal Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases.
Spicy foods and flavors have grown increasingly popular in the U.S. Americans seem to be moving past the nation’s love of hot sauce as manufacturers highlight the different flavor notes of chilies and more authentic ethnic flavors. Asian flavors that balance the five basic tastes – sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami – also are finding an audience.
The trend toward more home cooking and healthier foods means that some consumers are experimenting with adding spices to their diet so they don't have to forego the flavor. Adding spices also can cut down on salt, a practice which has resulted in strong sales growth recently for spice powerhouse McCormick & Co.
The Maryland-based spice and condiments company said last week it expects a 12% to 14% increase in sales during its 2018 fiscal year. McCormick has said it intends to capitalize on millennials’ interest in ethnic flavors and home cooking and has introduced a range of spice blends with brands such as Thai Kitchen, Zatarain’s, Simply Asia and Lawry’s.
While spicy foods certainly have their fans, consumers may stop or slow their pursuit of flavorful hot snacks and meals if they knew it put them at greater risk of obesity. Still, the various health benefits of spices used in those dishes, including increased metabolic and vascular health, could potentially outweigh these concerns.
Extremely spicy food is certainly a draw for adventurous consumers and can be a lucrative gimmick with the right marketing campaign. Amplify Snack Brands challenged consumers last year with its One Chip Challenge, which dared people to film themselves eating a giant tortilla chip made with the world’s hottest chili pepper.
With this kind of positive engagement, it seems unlikely that consumers will pause to check the types of fattening oils their novelty, super-spicy foods were prepared in. But manufacturers may want to investigate healthier ways of preparing more middle-of-the-road spicy food, such as frozen stir fries and other ethnic offerings.