Wdowik Column: Enjoy the Health Benefits of Peppers

As my husband and son sat challenging each other to see who could eat the most hot sauce, I had to laugh at the variety of pepper sauces and salsas on the table. Who knew there were so many kinds of chile peppers? You can find a wide assortment of colors and shapes at your local market right now, from sweet bells to spicy habaneros, and you may be inspired to increase your intake once you learn more about their myriad health benefits.

Health benefits of peppers are a hot topic. Although they have been used therapeutically for centuries, researchers are currently exploring their potential to assist with weight loss, pain reduction, indigestion, and disease prevention.

– Capsaicin, the substance that gives peppers their heat, has been found to speed metabolism and increase fat burning, but only when extremely large-dose capsules were taken. When eating tolerable amounts, effects are not significant.

– Pain reduction occurs when capsaicin-containing creams are applied to the skin, rather than ingested. One exception is stomach pain; while peppers can cause abdominal pain in some people, they have not been found to increase symptoms of heartburn. In fact, regular intake has been linked to decreased indigestion. Eating spicy peppers may also reduce the stomach discomfort and damage caused by anti-inflammatory drugs.

– Capsaicin also has the ability to clear congestion and relieve sinus pain. If you have ever suffered tearing eyes and a runny nose after a bite of a hot serrano, you understand.

– A variety of peppers have been associated with a reduction of: blood clotting, inflammation, free radicals, blood pressure, heart rate and insulin levels. While they alone cannot prevent diabetes, heart disease or cancer, peppers can play an important role in your healthy lifestyle.

Most known about peppers are their generous levels of nutrients, including fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants, which provide countless benefits.

– Antioxidants fight free radicals, which are responsible for the aging process and play a role in heart disease and cancer.

– Phytochemicals defend against inflammation, boost immunity and protect against cancer and heart disease.

– Fiber helps with digestion and can help with the prevention of diverticulosis, diabetes, weight gain, and heart disease.

– Vitamin A plays an important role in vision, the immune system and bone health.

– Vitamin C is necessary for growth and repair of tissues in all parts of your body and may reduce cancer risk.

– Potassium is critical for muscle movement, brain function, and maintaining blood pressure.

– Folate helps with new cell formation and growth.

– Vitamin B6 promotes brain and immune function.

– Lutein and zeaxanthin protect again ultraviolet light in the eyes and age-related macular degeneration.

Which peppers supply which specific nutrients? Most of them provide significant amounts of those listed here. For the most benefit, choose a colorful assortment, including bell, chile, jalapeno, cayenne, serrano, habanero and banana peppers. Whether you enjoy them fresh, roasted or dried, make peppers a regular part of your diet for both their flavor and health benefits.

Melissa Wdowik is an assistant professor at Colorado State University in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and director of the Kendall Anderson Nutrition Center.