Trending – Hot Sauce Nutrition

We took a high-level look at hot sauce in chili peppers in our last post. In this post, we'll dig deeper and explore the nutritional qualities of spicy foods.

What is hot sauce?

In the U.S., hot sauce typically refers to any sauce, salsa, or seasoning made primarily from chili peppers, found in the genus Capsicum, combined with other ingredients. 
Chili peppers are native to the Americas and spread across the globe through trade routes, and were further cultivated throughout the world.
We experience the spicy flavor and sensation from chili peppers and hot sauces due to capsaicin. Capsaicin is the active component found in chili peppers (1).

What ingredients are common in hot sauce?

Chili peppers of all varieties are the main ingredient in hot sauces providing their fiery flavor. 
Other common ingredients include vinegar, citrus fruits (lemons, limes, etc.), seasonings (e.g., garlic), salt, and other vegetables and fruits often pickled in the sauce.  

Is hot sauce good for me? What about chili peppers?

Manufacturers make hot sauces from chili peppers. Capsaicin is the key component in hot sauces and chili peppers, so let's look at them separately to understand these ingredients better.  

Hot Sauce

Hot sauce is typically low in calories, fats, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and minerals but tends to be relatively high in sodium (1). While it can add an extra zing to your meal without adding extra calories, it can also add extra salt. 
While sodium is a critical nutrient in supporting our ongoing bodily functions, experts link too much sodium to adverse health outcomes such as high blood pressure (1,2,3).
If you're sensitive to sodium or have high blood pressure or kidney problems, it's essential to pay attention to your sodium consumption levels (1,2,3).

Chili Peppers

Chili peppers are an excellent food as they are low in calories, fats, carbohydrates, and protein but contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals necessary to a healthy diet (1). 
As part of a balanced diet, chili peppers impart great flavor to dishes boost nutritional content, without adding excess calories, fats, or sodium to a meal. 
Two epidemiological studies even suggest that regular chili consumption, as part of a well-rounded diet, may improve life span (1,2). While others disagree, there's no current research showing chili peppers cause harm to folks without chili-pepper-related allergies (1,2). 

Is capsaicin good for me? 

Both hot sauces and chili peppers contain capsaicin. Researchers have found that capsaicin possesses a host of positive health-related attributes, including, 

  • reducing neuropathic pain that can be caused by varying health conditions (1,2,3).
  • helping manage weight and weight loss (1).

Other early studies in controlled laboratory settings show promising results around capsaicin, which may pave the way for future research and potential medical advancements, including, 

  • decreasing inflammation (1,2). 
  • cancer prevention (1,2,3). 

While research suggests there may be health benefits associated with capsaicin, the scientists in the listed studies are using a higher capsaicin concentration in doses and at dose rates that you cannot typically mimic through your diet. 
Research helps us advance our understanding of specific compounds and how to use those compounds to improve health in more ways than just diet alone. 

What else do I need to know? 

It's safe to liberally enjoy hot sauces and chili peppers as part of a well-rounded diet unless you have allergies or medical conditions to the ingredients (1,2,3). 
As with all foods, don't go overboard, because you can upset your stomach and cause pain by consuming too many hot sauces, chili peppers, and foods with capsaicin-containing ingredients with a high SHU. While this isn't lethal in normal quantities, it can be incredibly uncomfortable. 
It's important to work with a medical doctor or pharmacist for pain management rather than using capsaicin-containing chili peppers to make your own treatments.  

The good news.

Hot sauces and chili peppers can be part of a healthy diet, and we can say with a degree of certainty that they aren't causing undue harm.

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