Can you handle the heat? If so, new research shows that spicing up your meals with chili peppers may improve insulin control.

Researchers at the University of Tasmania in Australia asked 36 people to eat a normal, bland diet for four weeks. For the next four weeks, the subjects ate a daily diet supplemented with 30 grams of a chili pepper blend (55 percent cayenne). When eating chilies, subjects' blood glucose and blood insulin levels (measured during fasting and after meals) increased less than when they ate the bland diet. Eating chili peppers also resulted in a more optimal ratio of C-peptide to insulin, an indicator of insulin production—and how efficiently the body is using that insulin (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2006, vol. 84, no. 1).

"Regular chili consumption may lead to improved insulin sensitivity and better regulation of post-meal glucose," says lead author and PhD candidate Kiran Ahuja. These effects, she explains, likely could help with insulin resistance and associated conditions such as metabolic syndrome and heart disease.

According to the American Diabetes Association, more than 20 million Americans, or 7 percent of the population, have diabetes. And more than 41 million Americans have prediabetes, a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal.

Chili peppers provide lots of vitamin C as well as fiery capsaicin, a possible blood cholesterol–lowering compound that may also reduce fat and energy intake.