Whether you like them in your food, or just like the seeds poking out of a perfectly ripe jalapeño, chili peppers are one of the many things that make summer special. Did you know there are hundreds of types of chili peppers? One thing they have in common is a compound called capsaicin. Not only does capsaicin give chilies their “fire,” but this compound may also have health benefits.
What health perks can you expect when you bite into chili peppers? Some research suggests a diet rich in this hot food may give your metabolism a subtle boost. When you add these red-hot orbs to food, it also makes the food more filling and satisfying. Although the temporary increase in metabolism isn’t enough to cause significant weight loss, hot and spicy foods also suppress appetite.
Be careful with chili peppers though! They can burn your hands and fingers. Grab a pair of gloves before working with them. They’re one of the few foods that can cause a painful burn on your hands and fingers.
Some health benefits of hot peppers stem from the capsaicin they contain, but peppers are also an excellent source of vitamin C and an antioxidant vitamin. Plus, these chili peppers contain beta-carotene, an antioxidant your body can convert to vitamin A. When you bite into a hot pepper and need to cool the heat, milk works better than water. Treat these red-hot veggies with respect!
Are Chili Peppers Heart Healthy?
Chili peppers may also offer cardiovascular benefits. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition found capsaicin, the active ingredient which gives chili peppers their punch, helps reduce triglycerides – fats that circulate in the blood and are linked with cardiovascular disease.
A healthy heart and blood vessel health go hand in hand. Capsaicin or other components in chili peppers relax blood vessels and may modestly lower blood pressure by increasing blood vessel dilation and flexibility. Plus, capsaicin lowers inflammation inside blood vessels, a problem that may reduce the risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke.
One study published on Harvard Health examined the health history and dietary habits of 22,000 Southern Italians. It found that people who munched on chili peppers over 4 times per week had a 33% lower risk of dying of cardiovascular disease over the following 8 years. This study only shows an association, but it’s an intriguing one. The mechanisms previously mentioned may explain this perk of eating chili peppers.
Chili Peppers and Longevity
Chili peppers could even boost your longevity. One study compared the death rates of people who munched on hot peppers and compared them with those who didn’t. The pepper munchers were 25% less likely to die over the study period. Plus, chili pepper lovers had lower rates of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. This doesn’t necessarily show that chili peppers are responsible for the drop-in death rate. It could be due to another factor that people who love chilies have in common, but it is intriguing.
Chili peppers can also aid satiety after meals. In other words, you feel fuller and eat less food for a couple of hours after eating chili peppers than if you don’t eat them. That’s because the capsaicin in chili peppers suppresses appetite. One study found capsaicin reduces ghrelin, an appetite hormone that gives you the munchies.
One benefit of capsaicin comes from applying it to your skin. Topically, manufacturers place capsaicin into creams and patches to relieve pain and itch. Studies show it can temporarily relieve certain types of pain, including back pain, arthritis pain, sciatica, shingles nerve pain, gout, and neuropathic pain. It’s in some creams used to treat arthritis pain.
The Risks of Chili Peppers
Are there downsides to eating chili peppers? Everyone reacts differently to foods, especially potent food like chili peppers. Some people develop digestive upset, including nausea and stomach pain, when they eat them. This is more likely in people who aren’t used to eating them. Chili peppers can also worsen acid reflux symptoms. However, there are few long-term risks to eating chili peppers, and there may be benefits.
Although chili peppers appear to have some health benefits, we need more research. The idea of a “superfood” that can magically transform your health is a myth. The real benefits come from eating a nutrient-rich diet that includes a variety of whole foods. Chili pepper can be part of such a diet.
How to Enjoy the Health Benefits of Chili Peppers
Chili peppers are a flavorful addition to your diet and add personality to foods. They also have anti-inflammatory benefits, like reducing muscle inflammation and relieving arthritis symptoms. You’ll find lots of ways to enjoy their spice. Add them to recipes for extra flavor and heat. Some people even make unusual recipes, like chili pepper kebabs. So, experiment with the fire of chili peppers and discover how to spice up your favorite recipes. Enjoy!
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