Chili peppers, despite their fiery hotness, are one of very popular spices known for their medicinal and health benefiting properties. The chili, actually, is a fruit pod from the plant belonging to the nightshade family (Solanaceae), within the genus, capsicum.
Scientific name: Capsicum annum. Some of other common members in the Solanaceae family are tomato, aubergine, potato, etc.
Chili plant is a small, perennial shrub with woody stem, growing up to a meter in height. It is native to Central American region where it employed as one the chief spice ingredients in Mexican cuisine for centuries. Later, it was introduced to the rest of the world by Spanish and Portuguese explorers during the 16th and 17th centuries. Today chili pepper is grown widely in many parts of the world as an important commercial crop.
Several cultivars of chili peppers grown all around the world. Depending upon cultivar type, it bears flowers which subsequently develop into fruit pods of variable size, shape, color, and pungency. And again, depending on the cultivar type, their hotness ranges from mild, fleshy (Mexican bell peppers) to fiery, tiny, Nag Jalokiya chili peppers of Indian subcontinent. The hotness of chili is measured in “Scoville heat units” (SHU). On the Scoville scale, a sweet bell pepper scores 0, a jalapeño pepper around 2,500-4,000 units, and a Mexican habañeros may have 200,000 to 500,000 units.
Inside, each chili fruit pod features numerous tiny, white, or cream colored, circular, flat seeds which clinging on to the central white-placenta.
To harvest, chilies can be picked up while they are green, or when they reach complete maturity and dry on the plant itself. In general, the fruits are ready for harvesting once they mature and turn red. They are then left to dry under sunlight and srink in size.
Chilies have a strong spicy taste that comes to them from the active alkaloid compounds: capsaicin, capsanthin and capsorubin.
Chili pepper contains an impressive list of plant derived chemical compounds that are known to have disease preventing and health promoting properties.
This is the plant that puts fire on your tongue and maybe even a tear in your eye when you eat spicy Mexican, simmering Szechuan, smoldering Indian, or torrid Thai food.
There are hundreds of different types of chili peppers that vary in size, shape, color, flavor and “hotness”. This fleshy berry features many seeds inside a potent package that can range from less than one inch to six inches in length, and approximately one-half to one inch in diameter. Chili peppers are usually red or green in color.
Habanero, chipotle, jalapeno, Anaheim, and ancho are just some of the popular varieties of chili peppers available. Another is cayenne, which is well known as a spice in its dried and powdered form, and usually referred to as cayenne or cayenne pepper (even though that term does refer to the whole pepper, regardless of preparation).
Other ground chili peppers are used to make chili powder. Chili peppers are used as a food and seasoning and revered for their medicinal qualities.
Chilies contain health benefiting an alkaloid compound in them, capsaicin, which gives them strong spicy pungent character. Early laboratory studies on experimental mammals suggest that capsaicin has anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic, analgesic and anti-diabetic properties. It also found to reduce LDL cholesterol levels in obese individuals.
Fresh chili peppers, red and green, are rich source of vitamin-C. 100 g fresh chilies provide about 143.7 µg or about 240% of RDA. Vitamin C is a potent water-soluble antioxidant. It is required for the collagen synthesis inside the human body. Collagen is one of the main structural protein required for maintaining the integrity of blood vessels, skin, organs, and bones. Regular consumption of foods rich in vitamin C helps protect from scurvy, develop resistance against infectious agents (boosts immunity), and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals from the body.
They are also good in other antioxidants such as vitamin-A, and flavonoids like ß-carotene, a-carotene, lutein, zea-xanthin, and cryptoxanthin. These antioxidant substances in capsicum help protect the body from injurious effects of free radicals generated during stress, diseases conditions.
Chilies carry a good amount of minerals like potassium, manganese, iron, and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
Chilies are also good in B-complex group of vitamins such as niacin, pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), riboflavin and thiamin (vitamin B-1). These vitamins are essential in the sense that human body requires them from external sources to replenish.
Weight Loss (Chili Peppers)
Obesity is a serious health condition that increases the risk of many chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes.
There is some evidence that capsaicin, a plant compound in chili peppers, can promote weight loss by reducing appetite and increasing fat burning.
In fact, studies have shown that 10 grams of red chili pepper can significantly increase fat burning in both men and women.
Despite the mixed evidence, it appears that regular consumption of red chilis, or capsaicin supplements, may be helpful for weight loss when combined with other healthy lifestyle strategies.
All that heat you feel after eating hot chili peppers takes energy—and calories to produce. Even sweet red peppers have been found to contain substances that significantly increase thermogenesis (heat production) and oxygen consumption for more than 20 minutes after they are eaten.
Red chili peppers’ capsaicin, the compound responsible for their pungent heat. Stops the spread of prostate cancer cells through a variety of mechanisms. Capsaicin triggers suicide in both primary types of prostate cancer cell lines, those whose growth is stimulated by male hormones and those not affected by them. In addition, capsaicin lessens the expression of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), inhibits the ability of the most potent form of testosterone, dihydrotestosterone, to activate PSA, and directly inhibits PSA transcription, causing PSA levels to plummet.
Red chili peppers, such as cayenne, have been shown to reduce blood cholesterol. Triglyceride levels, and platelet aggregation, while increasing the body’s ability to dissolve fibrin. A substance integral to the formation of blood clots. Cultures where hot pepper is used liberally have a much lower rate of heart attack, stroke and pulmonary embolism.
Spicing your meals with chili peppers may also protect the fats in your blood from damage by free radicals – a first step in the development of atherosclerosis. In a randomized, crossover study involving 27 healthy subjects (14 women, 13 men). Eating freshly chopped chili was found to increase the resistance of blood fats. Such as cholesterol and triglycerides, to oxidation (free radical injury).
After eating the chili-containing diet, the rate of oxidation (free radical damage to cholesterol and triglycerides) was significantly lower in both men and women than that seen after eating the bland diet.
In addition, after eating the chili-spiced diet. Women had a longer lag time before any damage to cholesterol was seen compared to the lag time seen after eating the bland diet. In men, the chili-diet also lowered resting heart rate and increased the amount of blood reaching the heart.
Type 2 Diabetes
Making chili pepper a frequently enjoyed spice in your Healthiest Way of Eating could help reduce your risk of hyperinsulinemia (high blood levels of insulin)—a disorder associated with type 2 diabetes.
When chili-containing meals are a regular part of the diet, insulin requirements drop even lower.
Plus, chili’s beneficial effects on insulin needs get even better as body mass index (BMI, a measure of obesity) increases. In overweight people, not only do chili-containing meals significantly lower the amount of insulin required to lower blood sugar levels after a meal, but chili-containing meals also result in a lower ratio of C-peptide/ insulin, an indication that the rate at which the liver is clearing insulin has increased.
The amount of C-peptide in the blood also shows how much insulin is being produced by the pancreas. The pancreas produces proinsulin, which splits into insulin and C-peptide when secreted into the bloodstream. Each molecule of proinsulin breaks into one molecule of C-peptide and one molecule of insulin. So less C-peptide means less insulin has been secreted into the bloodstream.
Besides capsaicin, chilies contain antioxidants, including vitamin C and carotenoids, which might also help improve insulin regulation.
A little chili pepper can really perk up an omelet, add heat to a black bean/sweet potato soup. Or transform an ordinary salad dressing. So, spice up your meals with chili peppers. Your body will need to make less insulin and will use it more effectively. No need to go overboard though. Population studies in India and Mexico suggest that loading up on hot chilies at every meal may be linked to increased risk of stomach cancer.
Chili peppers contain a substance called capsaicin, which gives peppers their characteristic pungence, producing mild to intense spice when eaten. Capsaicin is a potent inhibitor of substance P, a neuropeptide associated with inflammatory processes. The hotter the chili pepper, the more capsaicin it contains. The hottest varieties include habanero and Scotch bonnet peppers. Jalapenos are next in their heat and capsaicin content. Followed by the milder varieties, including Spanish pimentos, and Anaheim and Hungarian cherry peppers.