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SPICE OF LIFE: CHILLI PEPPERS

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Chili peppers come in all shapes, sizes and spice concentrations, with the pimiento chili having a mild and pleasant flavor and habanero peppers being significantly spicier. See chart below.

Nutritional value in Chilis

Different types of chili peppers have different combinations and quantities of nutrients, but the key mutual nutrient found in all of them is a bioactive compound called capsaicin, which is responsible for the spicy taste and several health effects of these peppers. All chili peppers are very low in calories but relatively high in fiber and plant nutrients, vitamins and minerals, which makes it a valuable addition to your diet.

In the majority of cases, hot peppers are consumed in low quantities and are used as spices or condiments, so you’re not likely to get a lot of macronutrients from them, but they do pack a punch in the vitamin department. For example, chili peppers contain 3 times the amount of vitamin C compared to oranges.

But probably most importantly, hot peppers contain unique phytochemicals that are responsible for the majority of their positive health effects. These include:

  • Capsaicin. This is the compound that makes peppers spicy. It has been studied the most and is linked to the majority of hot peppers’ health benefits.
  • Capsanthin is an antioxidant that also makes peppers red. The antioxidant properties of this compound may be able to fight cancer.
  • Lutein may improve eyesight, but its levels are greatly decreased as the pepper ripens.
  • Violaxanthin is another antioxidant that’s responsible for the yellow pigment of peppers.
  • Sinapic and ferulic acid. These antioxidants are linked to anti-aging benefits and can prevent the development of chronic diseases.

Benefits of Chili

1. Pain relief

One of the phytochemicals contained in hot peppers, capsaicin, has a unique property of binding to pain receptors in the brain, causing you to feel a burning sensation, but without any adverse effects on the body. Since our brain can process only so many kinds of pain at the same time, it is possible to dull the pain you’re experiencing by eating spicy foods or using medical aids that contain capsaicin. By doing so, you will trick your brain into being less sensitive to pain. Topical patches and creams containing capsaicin, for example, were shown to decrease pain linked to arthritis, joint, and muscle pain, as well as nerve damage linked to diabetes. Capsaicin nasal sprays, on the other hand, are also used to deal with migraines. Finally, a study has shown that heartburn can also be relieved by ingesting 2.5 g of chili peppers every day.

2. Weight loss

Several studies show that it can suppress one’s appetite and also increase fat burning. And while most of these studies do suggest that the best results were achieved in participants who combined exercise and smart diet choices with chili peppers, they do conclude that a daily intake of hot peppers or a capsaicin supplement can boost one’s metabolism and promote weight loss.

3. Longevity

If you eat chili peppers at least once a month, you are more likely to live longer, at least that’s what a large scale study found. More precisely, individuals who ate at least 1 red chili pepper (dry or fresh) a month for 20 years had a 13% lower chance of death compared to people who didn’t. It seems like the variety of nutrients contained in these spicy peppers might help fight chronic inflammation and obesity, in the long run.

4. Stomach ulcers

One of the leading causes of the development of stomach ulcers is alcohol, NSAID pain relievers and a strain of bacteria called H. pylori. Several studies found that, contrary to popular belief, the anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties of hot peppers, and particularly capsaicin, helped prevent the development of stomach ulcers among people with high counts of H. pylori in their stomachs, as well as other risk factors.

5. Relieve nasal congestion

Some people experience what is called non-allergic rhinitis, which is when you have a runny or stuffed-up nose that is not due to a cold or allergy. Oftentimes, people with this condition benefit from capsaicin nasal drops. These drops may cause a burning sensation in your nasal cavity at first, but they may relieve you of nasal congestion for weeks or even months.

6. Antibacterial properties

People have been using spices, especially pungent ones, like chili, to prevent food from spoiling for thousands of years. This traditional use is certainly supported by science, with chili, in particular, having been proven to possess antibacterial and antifungal properties. For one, it was found that chili extract can even prevent cholera bacteria from producing toxins. Some scientists even suggest using chili extract as a natural preservative. Apart from preventing food poisoning, however, some studies even used chili extract to treat streptococcus-induced throat infections, chlamydia, and tooth decay. It needs to be noted, however, that all these studies looked at the effect of chili extract, and not whole chili peppers, on these conditions.

7. Help Regulate Blood Pressure

The final advantage of chili peppers is their capability to regulate blood pressure and blood sugar. More specifically, chili peppers can help normalize cholesterol levels, at least in animal models. Apart from that, one study suggested that eating 5 g of chilies before a meal high in carbohydrates can help prevent sugar spikes, which means that chili peppers can be beneficial for your heart health and diabetes prevention, although we must point out that more evidence is necessary to back that claim.

Take Away

Chili peppers are an excellent addition to one’s diet, with even small amounts of this spice being able to do wonderful things to our bodies. Still, it needs to be mentioned that not all people can tolerate spicy food, and personal sensitivity to spice can result in strong burning sensations, indigestion, and diarrhea, especially among people who rarely eat spicy food or have bowel conditions, such as IBS.

The bottom line is, if you like spicy peppers, know that they can really improve your health, but if chilies make you suffer and you cannot tolerate the burning sensations, it’s best to avoid them.

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Author: txnaturalpediatrics

By training, I am a American Board Certified Pediatrician. But in my younger years I grew up with natural alternatives. As a mom I have tried to incorporate both for my kids and it has worked wonders. And finally, as I am studying natural & alternative medicines, I realize the beauty and wisdom of living closer to earth. Hence in my practice I integrate both...for acute ailments I follow American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation but for simple and/or chronic conditions I prefer natural alternatives. In western training we were raised to think that "health is the absence of symptoms and problems". But eastern sensibilities has educated me that "Health is state that allows one to use the full capabilities of their body, mind and intellect. Therefore, healthy living is a balanced state of well being: physically, mentally, socially and spiritually." This implies that healing is not a "one-pill-fits-all", but a personalized experience.

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