Chili pepper is a very common spice that find its way into almost all households around the globe. It’s responsible for putting on fire your tongue and maybe even make you shed a tear when you add it to your favorite dishes.
However, if you’re brave enough to use it you will get a lot of health benefits from it.
What is it exactly...
Chili pepper is a fruit and not a vegetable as many believe (including myself). There are hundreds of different types of chili pepper that vary in shape, color and in the so-called “hotness”.
Chipotle, habanero, jalapeno, anaheim and ancho are some of the popular varieties of the broader family of chili peppers available. Ground chili peppers are used to make chili powder, cayenne powder and paprika.
The health benefits
Chili peppers contain a substance called capsaicin, which gives peppers their characteristic pungence, producing mild to intense spice when eaten.
Capsaicin is a potent inhibitor of substance P, a neuropeptide associated with inflammatory processes. The hotter the chili pepper, the more capsaicin it contains. This means that the “braver” you are the most benefits you’ll get from chili peppers.
Capsacin has been studied as a treatment for sensory nerve fiber disorders (such as pain associate with arthritis, psoriasis and diabetic neuropathy).
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.
In fact, cultures where hot pepper is used liberally have a much lower rate of heart attack, stroke and pulmonary embolism.
According to a recent study chili peppers may also protect the fats in your blood from damage by free radicals that are a first step in the development of atherosclerosis.
Chili peppers' bright red color signals its high content of beta-carotene (pro-vitamin A) and they also contain vitamin C.
In a study published in the July 2006 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a team of Aussie researchers showed that the amount of insulin required to lower blood sugar after a meal is reduced if the meal contains chili pepper. When chili-containing meals are a regular part of the diet, insulin requirements drop even lower. This is good news for people suffering with Type-2 diabetes.
The antimicrobial properties
In a study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology a team of researchers, while investigating Mayan medicinal practices, tested various tissues of a variety of hot peppers for their antimicrobial (germ killing) properties and compared them to controls.
The results clearly indicated that peppers have antimicrobial properties.
This comes particularly handy when cooking (in particular meat or fish, foods that are more likely packed with germs): by using chili peppers you can be sure that some of the germs will be killed.
Some precautions with chili peppers
Be very careful when handling and cooking fresh chili peppers. As the capsaicin contained in them can cause a severe burning sensation if it touches your skin or lips, or comes in contact with your eyes.
Notice that capsaicin primarily resides in the seeds and fleshy white inner membranes. This means that if you want to enjoy the pungency of peppers but minimize their heat, you can remove these parts, however capsaicin is the compound “responsible” for much of chili pepper's health benefits.
Before adding chili peppers to a recipe, I always taste a little piece to determine the spice level, so I know how much to add. The same goes with ground chili pepper.
There are endless way to enjoy chili peppers just be sure to include some in your diet!
The Iron You