Did you know that ancient peoples, particularly Aztecs and Mayans, consumed chili peppers as an aphrodisiac? Besides this revelation, there are many reasons to consider kicking your chili pepper consumption up a notch, as there are several related health benefits. Peppers are a great source of Vitamin C, which also acts as an antioxidant. 100 grams of chili peppers contain more than 200% of your daily recommended dose of Vitamin C, as well as a 39% of Vitamin B6, 32% of Vitamin A, 13% iron, 14% copper and 7% potassium. They are also cholesterol free. The “spicy” part of chili peppers is called capsaicin, and is actually flavorless and odorless. The more capsaicin there is in a pepper, the higher the antioxidant level (as well as spiciness). For example, a bell pepper has no capsaicin, while habanero peppers have a lot. You can actually train your taste buds to tolerate spicy peppers, simply by adding them to your daily diet in gradual amounts. Eventually the burn fades and you can start to enjoy the flavors instead of the burn.
Capsaicin can help to curb appetite, at least briefly, which can benefit those on reduced-calorie diets. Ever break a sweat after eating a hot pepper? This is your body’s response to the heat. Your body produces a sweat to counteract the heat which in turn helps to boost your metabolic rate and burn more calories.
Recent studies have shown that capsaicin can help to kill cancer cells, by preventing them from avoiding regular cell death (apoptosis). In fact, a study of prostate cancer in mice found that the compound killed about 80% of prostate cancer cells. Several other studies of pancreatic and lung cancer have had similar results. While there’s no study to indicate the same results in people, it wouldn’t hurt to add some chili peppers to your diet just in case.
In the same way that your taste buds (nerve endings) adjust to the “burn” of chili peppers, the same compound can be used topically to reduce nerve-induced pain elsewhere in the body, such as with osteoarthritis and psoriasis.
Buying and Consuming Peppers
When purchasing peppers, look for the brightest-color available (this indicates freshness and higher antioxidant levels). The stalk should be intact. You can store peppers in the fridge inside a plastic bag for up to a week. It’s a good idea to start small when adding any kind of hot pepper to your diet. You can steam, bake, grill, or stir-fry peppers, or eat them raw. Try adding a bit of pepper to your meal and then slowly increase the amount. Chili peppers are also great added to salads, sauces and salsas. What's your favorite way to enjoy chili peppers? Share below! Photo: Thai Food Blog