For years, doctors have been urging us to cut down on foods rich in salt, sugar, and trans fats. But black pepper is normally not mentioned in the same breath.
New research actually suggests the common household spice could be good for you, with surprising health benefits that have been overlooked until now.
Researchers from Kansas State University have highlighted a connection between black pepper marinades and heterocyclic amines (HCAs), chemicals created when meat is cooked at high temperatures that are linked to cancer.
When the researchers marinated a half pound of ground beef with a teaspoon of black pepper, they found that the spice counteracted the HCAs almost entirely, making the cooked meat much healthier.
If just the thought is making you sneeze, the study's authors say a milder blend of pepper, oregano, rosemary, and other spices would do the trick to.
And lowering your cancer risk isn't the only benefit black pepper has to offer. Studies on animals suggest that adding pepper to your diet could improve your gut flora, and help your body absorb nutrients.
Pepper is also a good source of antioxidants, which stabilize the natural byproducts of your body that cause cell damage, helping to prevent visible signs of aging and conditions like vision loss.
One explanation for pepper's surprising health effects involves piperine, one of the organic compounds that gives the spice its signature flavor. Piperine seems to help the body absorb anti-inflammatory chemicals like curcumin and reservatrol which are normally broken down in the digestive system.
It's still unclear how much black pepper you need to ingest to unlock these health benefits, which means we don't really know whether a dash of the spice will make a difference for you.
Overindulging in piperine supplements could also interfere with certain medicines, because the compound has an absorptive effect similar to black charcoal.
But so far, research shows there are few downsides to seasoning your food with black pepper - and a whole bunch of potential health benefits.