Nutrition

Enjoy the Heat! Health benefits of eating hot peppers

Last updated: Jun 27, 2016

Do you know that there are over 200 varieties of hot peppers?1 Hot peppers have been cultivated since at least 7500 BC, and are an important – and flavorful – part of food traditions throughout the world.2

Hot PeppersSpicy hot foods don’t just taste delicious; they also are a good source of vitamins E and A and contain small amounts of several vitamins and minerals including vitamins K, B6, B2, B3, copper, iron and potassium.3 Hot peppers also boast several health benefits including slightly increasing metabolism to burn more calories, decreasing appetite especially for fatty, sweet and/or salty foods and improving cardiovascular health by decreasing inflammation.4 These effects are small, but routinely including hot peppers in your daily food choices may be a simple and tasty way to help promote health.1 The health benefits are due to capsaicin, a component present in peppers in direct relationship to the heat level. The heat level of peppers is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU) which are the number of times a chili extract is diluted in water until it loses its heat. Bell peppers rank lowest at zero SHU, jalapenos score 3000-6000 SHU, and habanero peppers generate 300,000 SHU.2

What is capsaicin?

Capsaicin is a phytochemical in peppers that gives them their spicy hot taste. Capsaicin is an oil-like substance that repels water, which is why drinking a glass of water when your mouth feels like it’s on fire after eating a jalapeno pepper only increases the intensity of the heat. Drink a glass of cold milk instead of water, and you’ll put out the fire.3

Which parts of peppers contain capsaicin?

The white membranes inside peppers contain the most capsaicin, followed by the flesh of the pepper. The seeds contain no capsaicin.3

Does eating hot and spicy foods really make me feel cooler in the summer?

One study showed that eating hot peppers decreases skin temperature, although core body temperature increased.5 You might feel cooler because sweating is the body’s cooling mechanism, and eating spicy foods makes us sweat.

Do spices made from hot peppers also contain capsaicin?

Chili powder, cayenne pepper, and other types of dried spices are made from the entire pepper, and contain capsaicin.3

How to use peppers in cooking:

  • Add diced peppers to scrambled eggs, hash browns, cornbread, or any other recipe where you want some extra spice and heat.
  • Sprinkle cayenne pepper and lemon juice on sautéed dark leafy green vegetables like mustard, dandelion, or collard greens.
  • Stir diced peppers into salad dressing.
  • Add chopped peppers into tuna or chicken salad for a spicy zing.

Caution:  Capsaicin in peppers can cause a burning sensation on your hands when you’re cutting peppers for food preparation. If you touch your lips or rub your eyes, you’ll spread the burning pain to those areas as well. For safety, wear gloves when cooking with peppers, wash your hands thoroughly, and clean cutting boards and knives with soapy water.

References

  1. The Effects of Capsaicin and Capsiate on Energy Balance: Critical Review and Meta-analyses of Studies in Humans. Mary-Jon Ludy, George E. Moore and Richard D. Mattes. Chem Senses. 2012 Feb; 37(2): 103–121.
  2. The Two Faces of Capsaicin. Ann M. Bode, Zigang Dong. Cancer Res; 71(8); 2809–14.
  3. Chile pepper, dried. The World’s Healthiest Foods. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=29. Accessed 6-19-16.
  4. Capsaicin may have important potential for promoting vascular and metabolic health. Mark F. McCarty, James J. DiNicolantonio, James H. O’Keefe. Open Heart 2015;2: doi:10.1136/openhrt-2015-000262
  5. The effects of hedonically acceptable red pepper doses on thermogenesis and appetite. Mary-Jon Ludy and Richard D. Mattes. Physiol Behav. 2011 Mar 1; 102(3-4): 251-258.

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