Chili peppers are not a new ingredient to the professional chef, and neither are they to the overzealous wife or mom at home. No! They’re also not new to the guy who loves cooking. Chili peppers are a very popular cooking ingredient. Scientifically, they are known as Capsicum annuum. They grow from the Capsicum pepper plants, and have a very unique hot flavor.
Chili peppers belong to the nightshade family. Members of this family include tomatoes and bell peppers. There are many types of chili peppers, like the jalapeno and cayenne.
Chili peppers serve their function as spices. They can be used in their powdered, or dried forms. They can even be used cooked. The powdered form of red chili peppers is known as paprika.
The most important phytochemical in chili peppers is capsaicin. It has a pungent taste. It is also responsible for most of the health benefits of chili peppers. In this article, we will discuss everything bordering on the health effects and nutrition facts of chili peppers.
NUTRITION FACTS OF CHILI PEPPERS
For a tablespoon of fresh, unprocessed, red chili pepper, you will get the following as nutrition benefits:
- Water: 88 percent
- Calories: 6
- Sugar: 0.8g
- Fat: 0.1g
- Carbs: 1.3g
- Protein: 0.3g
Vitamins & Minerals
There are lots of vitamins and minerals in chili peppers.
However, because we do not eat much of chili peppers (due to their hot taste and flavor), the daily nutritional intake that we get from them are not much. What you can get from these spicy ingredients include (2):
- Vitamin C. There is a high amount of vitamin C in chili peppers. Vitamin C is an antioxidant. It helps with immune function and healing of wounds.
- Vitamin B6. Chili peppers are rich in vitamin B6. It is important in energy metabolism.
- Vitamin K1. Vitamin K is known scientifically as phylloquinone. It helps in the buildup of healthy kidneys and bones. It is also important for blood clotting.
- Potassium. Chili pepper is rich in potassium, an electrolyte protects the heart when eaten in the right amounts.
- Copper. The Western diet is usually deficient in copper. Copper helps to build strong and healthy neurons and bones.
- Vitamin A. Chili peppers do not contain vitamin A per se. Rather they have beta carotene. The human body then converts this into vitamin A.
Bioactive compounds in chili pepper
Chili peppers are loaded with capsaicin.
They are also rich in carotenoids (a type of antioxidants), which have a lot of health benefits.
- Capsanthin. Research has shown that this is the major carotenoid contained in red chili pepper. Capsanthin makes up more than half of the carotenoid content of chili pepper. It has very potent antioxidant effects that may help it to destroy cancer cells.
- Violaxanthin. This is an important carotenoid in yellow chili peppers. It makes up to 50 percent of the entire carotenoid content.
- Lutein. Lutein is mostly found in green peppers. Its level decreases as the pepper matures. Lutein helps to improve eye health.
- Capsaicin. A lot of research has been done on capsaicin. Without capsaicin, chili pepper wouldn’t have its characteristic hot flavor. It also contributes to the many health benefits of chili pepper.
- Sinapic acid. This is an antioxidant. Just like other bioactive compounds, it also has many health benefits.
- Ferulic acid. It is almost like sinapic acid. It is an antioxidant, and research shows that it is potent against many chronic ailments.
Research has shown that antioxidants are more readily found in mature chili peppers than they are in green (immature) peppers (3).
HEALTH BENEFITS OF CHILI PEPPERS
Chili peppers have a very hot taste, that’s uncontestable. However, they are healthy. Indeed, they have long been identified as a healthy spice.
The major bioactive component of chili pepper is capsaicin. It has some very important properties.
Capsaicin has a very high affinity to pain receptors. This creates a burning sensation which in the actual sense does not trigger any burning injuries.
Excessive consumption of chili peppers, or prolonged consumption desensitizes the pain receptors over time, and when the pain receptors are desensitized, the individual loses his or her ability to sense chili’s burning and hot flavor.
Apart from the hot flavor of chili pepper, the affected pain receptors also become insensitive to other forms of pain, like heartburn (GERD).
One research showed that daily consumption of red chili pepper by heartburn patients caused a worsening of the pain at the beginning of the study. However, the pain improved over time (11).
A 6-week study showed that daily consumption of 3grams of pepper improved heartburn in GERD patients (12).
However, it should be noted that this desensitization effect of chili pepper might just be temporary. A study showed that the effect was reversed 3 days after intake of capsaicin was stopped (13).
Obesity is endemic. It is common both in developed and underdeveloped nations of the world. A person that is obese is at risk of many chronic diseases, including diabetes and heart disease.
The capsaicin that is present in red chili pepper may also reduce the appetite. In a research involving 24 people, it was discovered that regular intake of capsaicin before a meal caused a reduced intake of calories (22).
In another research, this time involving irregular consumption of chili, it was also found out that calorie intake and appetite was significantly reduced (23).
These mixed evidences notwithstanding, regular intake of capsaicin supplements or red chili peppers enhances weight loss especially when the individual adopts other healthy lifestyle attributes (14).
It is important to note that chili peppers may not all that be effective all alone. Tolerance to its effects is a gradual process, thus limiting its effectiveness (15).
DEMERITS OF RED CHILI PEPPER
Chili peppers have some disadvantages, but not in all persons. One should also note that not everyone likes its effects.
Chili peppers have a hot flavor, and a burning one at that.
Capsaicin is responsible for this sensation. Capsaicin has a high affinity to pain receptors and this causes the burning sensation.
Do you know pepper spray? Well, it is made from oleoresin capsicum, a compound that is extracted from chili peppers (27).
Too much of capsaicin causes swelling, inflammation, redness, and pain (28).
Constant exposure to capsaicin results in the insensitivity of certain pain neurons to further pain.
Diarrhea and stomach pain
Too much of chili can cause some discomfort or distress in the intestines of some persons.
The symptoms include pains in the abdomen, cramps, diarrhea that is painful, and a sensation of burns in the gut.
Stomach pain and diarrhea is common in patients that have irritable bowel syndrome. If IBS patients who are not used to chili take it in their meals, then they may experience a temporary worsening of IBS symptoms (29, 30, 31).
Because of this, IBS patients should watch their intake of chili.
The risk of cancer is increased
Cancer is a complex health disorder. Its main feature is random and abnormal cell growth.
There are mixed evidences on the effects that chili has on cancer.
Studies carried out on animals have shown that capsaicin may either be pro or anticancer (32).
As a plus, an Indian research has shown that red chili powder may be a risk factor for throat and mouth cancer (35).
It is important to note that no research has proven that actual consumption of chili peppers causes cancer. NO! The research only shows that people who ate an excess of it do have a higher risk of getting it.
There is need for further research to determine whether prolonged intake of chili or capsaicin supplements is safe in the long term.
Everyone has heard of chili pepper if not for anything, but for it’s pungent, hot flavor.
Chili peppers are rich in minerals, vitamins, and many important phytochemicals.
Capsaicin is one the phytochemicals in chili pepper. It has many health benefits, and also some demerits.
Studies have shown that chili pepper has analgesic and weight loss effects.
However, it also causes a sensation of burning, which many people find unpleasant. It also causes an upset of the gastrointestinal tract.
Before eating chili peppers, be sure that you know your tolerance limits.