Nutrition Over Easy: A Pepper Reality Check

This is the kind of study that the media love: Researchers from Purdue University report that adding a half teaspoon of cayenne pepper to your meal can reduce your appetite and cause you to burn more calories. Count on seeing this new “fat-burning tip” popping up on magazine covers and internet aggregation sites. Before you get too excited, however, it pays to look beyond the headlines.

Exactly How Many Extra Calories Was That?

It’s true: Subjects who ate meals spiked with cayenne pepper burned more calories over the next five hours than those who ate the same meal without any pepper. And just what did this metabolism-revving, calorie-burning bonanza amount to?

An extra 2 calories per hour, for a total of ten additional calories.

Whew. Don’t spend it all in one place!

And For Best Results, Don’t Make a Habit of It!

In terms of the effect on appetite, the results were a bit more meaningful. Eating a spicy meal led some subjects to shave about 150 calories off of their next meal. However, this appetite-suppressing effect only seemed to work in people who don’t normally eat spicy foods. Those who habitually eat “hot” foods got no appetite-suppressing effect.

So it works, but only if you don’t do it…which would seem to undercut the usefulness of this strategy.

Good Research, Bad Reporting

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m dissing the work of these investigators. The results are actually very interesting, giving rise to all sorts of interesting new questions and possibilities for useful research. But as a weight-loss strategy–which is how this will play in the mainstream media–it is virtually useless.

Source: Ludy MJ, Mattes RD. The effects of hedonically acceptable red pepper doses on thermogenesis and appetite. Physiol Behav. 2011 Mar 1;102(3-4):251-8.

For help getting your nutrition priorities in order, check out Nutrition Diva’s Secrets for a Healthy Diet: What to Eat, What to Avoid, and What to Stop Worrying About!

Connect with Monica on Facebook or on her blog at

Free Downloads

Download free chapters from Nutrition Diva’s Secrets for a Healthy Diet

Read Chapter Three — Packaged and Prepared Food

Read Chapter Six — Snacking Well

LISTEN to Monica’s Nutrition Diva podcasts on iTunes!



What Do FoodTrients Do?
anti-inflamatory Anti-Inflammatory

Reduces inflammation process in cells, tissues, and blood vessels, helping to slow aging and reduce risk of long-term disease.

anti-oxidant Anti- oxidant

Prevents and repairs oxidative damage to cells caused by free radicals.

immunity-booster Immunity Boosters

Support the body’s resistance to infection and strengthen immune vigilance and response.

mind Mind

Enhancers encourage vibrant skin and hair and improve mood and mental agility.

disease-preventing Disease Prevention

Reduces risk factors for common degenerative and age-related diseases.