San Antonio certainly doesn’t need any excuses to spice up its diet. Many of this city’s favorite foods (and drinks) are laced with oodles of chile, be it fiery salsa drizzled over a taco, cheese-stuffed poblanos, grilled jalapeños alongside an order of pollo asado or a rim of ground peppers on your next margarita.

But science shows that eating all those peppers delivers a lot more than an endorphin rush as they have a surprisingly wide range of health benefits.

Here’s a biggie: They can help you live longer.

Chile consumption has been linked to lower death rates in a new American Heart Association study.

Chuck Blount /Staff file photo

A November 2020 report from the American Heart Association examined health data from more than 570,000 people scattered across numerous countries (the United States, Italy, China and Iran, specifically) and found that compared to people who rarely or never consume chiles, regular chile eaters experienced measurably lower death rates. And not by a small margin, either: There’s a 26 percent comparative reduction in cardiovascular mortality and 23 percent reduction in mortality from cancer.

Not scared of heart attacks or cancer? The same study showed a 25 percent lower death rate from any cause among chileheads.

Naturally, the very sober Harvard Medical School was careful to throw a damper on the study’s flames, noting, “it’s important to keep these findings in perspective: a single spice is unlikely to have any major impact compared to other parts of a healthy lifestyle, including a well-balanced, heart-healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and avoiding excess weight.”

That’s not to say the sages of Cambridge pooh-pooh peppers in general. Harvard points out that, gram-for-gram, chiles contain more vitamin A and C and calcium than asparagus, green peas or celery. Additionally, the Harvard Medical School reports chiles can speed up metabolism and help oxidize fat.

Penn Medicine, the research and clinical arm of the University of Pennsylvania, has published a good bit of information about the health benefits of capsaicin, the chemical compound that give chiles their signature sting. According to them, chiles can lower LDL cholesterol (that’s the bad one) and bind with receptors in the digestive system creating anandamide, a chemical shown to reduce inflammation in the gut.

“The same reaction that calms down your gastrointestinal tract may also keep it tumor-free,” the Penn Medicine report said. “It may be particularly effective for people that are at high risk of developing intestinal tumors.”

Chiles can help speed up metabolism.

Chiles can help speed up metabolism.

Paul Stephen /Staff file photo

And speaking of guts, chiles can be a digestive aid as well. The University of Michigan says chiles or capsaicin supplements can increase digestive juices in the stomach, which helps the body process all those tacos and enchiladas we’re collective pounding down. They also stave off harmful bacteria that can lead to diarrhea or infection.

And finally, chiles can clear up your congestion. Capsaicin has been shown to help clear up “nonallergic rhinitis,” or in other words, stuffy sinuses caused by changes in weather or environmental irritants like dust or smoke, among other things. Sadly, it won’t help with you allergies. And you can benefit from this one even if you can’t stand the taste of peppers as there are several capsaicin-based nasal sprays on the market.

The evidence seems clear: Whether you eat them or snort them, chiles do a body good.

[email protected] | Twitter: @pjbites | Instagram: @pjstephen