If you’re like one woman’s dad, maybe you don’t think your food is packing enough heat unless your meal is fiery enough to send tears rolling down your cheeks. But hot pepper lovers may be on the right track to health. Several studies suggest turning up the heat in your diet might trigger all kinds of health benefits.

Findings from the most recent study focused on the dietary habits of more than 500,000 men and women in China, where fresh chile peppers rule in kitchens preparing spicy cuisines.

For the study, researchers questioned participants about what they ate each day and followed them from 2004 through 2008.

Scientists found that those who ate spicy foods once or twice each week enjoyed a 10 percent lower risk of death than those who didn’t. In addition, those who ate spicy foods six or seven days each week scored a 14 percent lower risk of death than others who didn’t eat peppery meals.

Researchers suggest that the protective effects come from capsaicin, the main active component in chile peppers.

Here’s another hot tip: For the best protective boost, use only fresh peppers.