Hot peppers contain a substance called capsaicin that not only adds spice to our foods but may actually help us lose weight. A new study conducted by UCLA researchers found that a substance in hot peppers called capsaicin can actually increase our energy expenditure by increasing heat production.

If you don't appreciate the "burn" of hot peppers, researchers say there are plants that make a non-burning version of capsaicin called dihydrocapsiate (DCT) that could have the benefits of peppers without the pungency.

The study was presented earlier this week at the Experimental Biology 2010 meeting in Anaheim, CA

The UCLA team set out to document capsaicin's ability to increase heat production in human subjects consuming a weight-loss diet. They recruited 34 men and women who were willing to consume a very low-calorie liquid meal replacement product for 28 days. The researchers then randomized the subjects to take either placebo pills or supplements containing the non-burning DCT pepper analog.

Two dosage levels of DCT were tested. At the beginning and end of the study, body weight and body fat were assessed, and the researchers determined energy expenditure (heat production) in each subject after he or she consumed one serving of the test meal.

The results show that, at least for several hours after the test meal was consumed, energy expenditure was significantly increased in the group consuming the highest amount of DCT. In fact, it was almost double that of the placebo group. This suggests that eating this pepper-derived substance that doesn't burn can have the same potential benefit as hot peppers at least in part by increasing food-induced heat production.

Results also showed that DCT significantly increased fat oxidation, pushing the body to use more fat as fuel. This may help people lose weight when they consume a low-calorie diet by increasing metabolism.

The team says the study does have some limitations. It only looked at the effect of DCT on the thermic response to a single meal, and there might be a different effect in lean vs. obese subjects. While more research needs to be done, researchers say the bottom line is, don't be afraid to pile on the peppers.