Chili and other hot peppers offer many significant health benefits, although many fear the heat, however, after learning what peppers have to offer, you may want to consider overcoming that fear. Peppers contain "capsaicin." The hotter the chili pepper, the more capsaicin it contains. Capsaicin is being studied as an effective treatment for sensory nerve fiber disorders, including pain associated with arthritis, psoriasis, and diabetic neuropathy. Capsaicin is also a potent inhibitor of substance P, a neuropeptide associated with inflammatory processes.

Red chili peppers, such as cayenne, have been shown to reduce blood cholesterol, triglyceride levels, and platelet aggregation, while increasing the body's ability to dissolve fibrin, a substance integral to the formation of blood clots. Cultures where hot pepper is used liberally have a much lower rate of heart attack, stroke and pulmonary embolism.

The capsaicin from peppers also helps the lungs function more effectively and unblocks a stuffed up nose by stimulating secretions. Eating a lot of peppers has also been known to help with headaches and asthmatics breath more easily.

Peppers also contain a whole lot of vitamin C and Vitamin A.

Chili peppers' bright red color signals it has a high content of beta-carotene or pro-vitamin A. Just two teaspoons of red chili peppers provide about 6% of the daily value for vitamin C coupled with more than 10% of the daily value for vitamin A. Often called the anti-infection vitamin, vitamin A is essential for healthy mucous membranes, which line the nasal passages, lungs, intestinal tract and urinary tract and serve as the body's first line of defense against invading pathogens.

Chili peppers are also thought to aid in weight loss. All the heat you feel after eating hot chili peppers takes energy--and calories to produce. Even sweet red peppers have been found to contain substances that significantly increase thermogenesis (heat production) and oxygen consumption for more than 20 minutes after they are eaten.

There is a range of “hotness” between pepper varieties and sometimes also within the same varieties. Therefore, each time you cook with them you may need to adjust the amount you use.

The hottest varieties include habañero and Scotch bonnet peppers. Jalapeños are next in their heat and capsaicin content, followed by the milder varieties, including Spanish pimentos, and Anaheim and Hungarian cherry peppers.

Like cayenne pepper, red chili peppers are available throughout the year to add zest to flavorful dishes around the world and health to those brave enough to risk their fiery heat.

Capsaicin can irritate or burn your eyes or hands. Chili oil can stick to the skin, so wash hands thoroughly after handling the peppers and be cautious about touching your hands to your eyes. Be aware that pepper dust from grinding dried peppers can irritate throat and eyes, so you may want to consider protecting your eyes and throat.

There is so much goodness in the hot tasty pepper it is hard to image a diet without them. However, it is important to slowly introduce your palette to them if they are not a regular part of your diet. To add a mild pepper flavor to your dish, poke holes in the chili of your choice with a toothpick (or cut slits in it) and add it to a food that is already cooking. When cooking is complete, remove the chili from the dish.

And remember once you get past the fear of the heat, you will be hooked!

Melanie Tooker


This article is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for any medical conditions. You should promptly seek professional medical advice if you have any concern about your health or physical condition, and you should always consult your physician before following the recommendations presented here.  


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© Melt Magazine 2005