Many people love to savor on spicy food. The heat and extra kick of flavor chilies provide for many of our favorite dishes make eating even more delightful.
And chilies are not only prized for their meal-enhancing powers but their impressive health benefits as well. These health perks stir the growing popularity of chilies in many kitchens, homes, and food hubs.
The heat and nutritional properties of chilies are attributed to their active component called capsaicin. This specific compound contains anti-microbial properties that prevent the growth of bacteria by as much as 75 percent.
It’s no longer surprising why ancient people were fond of using hot peppers for medicinal purposes. And amazingly, chili peppers are able to sustain their impressive reputation when it comes to preventing and treating several health conditions.
Take a closer look at how chilies can promote heart health, relieve migraines and joint pains, promote weight loss, and prevent your cancer risk in this ultimate health guide.
How Chilies Benefit Your Health
Chilies help treat digestive issues
It may sound counter-intuitive, but chilies are great for your digestive tract. For years, people suffering from ulcers have been advised to cut the consumption of spicy foods.
Research, however, has shown that chili is not the culprit – it actually acts as a “benefactor”! Chili’s active compound, capsaicin, stimulates sensory neurons and signals in the stomach to guard it against injury-causing elements.
Hot peppers also contain antioxidant properties that help treat digestive issues such as upset stomach, diarrhea, intestinal gas, and stomach cramps.
They are also beneficial in the production of saliva and stimulation of gastric juices, which are important for digestive processes.
Chilies promote a healthy heart
Chilies contain anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce blood pressure and improve circulation.
Peppers also have a dilating effect because of its capsaicin content, which helps to lower bad cholesterol levels and prevent blood clots.
What’s more, capsaicin was found to improve the risk factors of coronary heart disease (CHD), and may even help prevent and treat this chronic disease.
Chilies relieve pain
Many people are using over-the-counter capsaicin creams and ointments to relieve muscle pain, arthritis, headaches, and shingles. Its pain-relieving abilities are attributed to capsaicin’s anti-inflammatory properties.
One case report even found that hot peppers were able to provide relief to a woman with trigeminus neuralgia, something that wasn’t addressed by therapy and an operation!
Chilies combat colds, flu, and other fungal infections
Chili peppers are chock full of antioxidants and beta-carotene that provide support for your immune system, helping to combat flu and colds.
A study discovered that capsaicin nasal spray helps relieve congestion, particularly non-allergic rhinitis. Chili pepper intake also helps to protect the body against 16 fungal strains by decreasing fungal pathogens.
Chilies reduce your cancer risk
According to the American Association for Cancer Research, hot peppers possess anti-cancer properties, a claim supported by research.
A study discovered that capsaicin contained in chili peppers exhibits anti-cancer activities by targeting various signaling pathways in different tumor phases.
While further research is recommended to solidify the cancer protective effects of capsaicin, these findings are highly encouraging.
Chilies boost your mood
One of the amazing chili benefits is its ability to enhance your mood.
Capsaicin has also been linked to the improvement of moderate to severe depression as it raises the body’s release of endorphins or the feel-good chemicals that work as nature’s painkillers and mood enhancers.
These favorable effects make chili peppers a safe, tasteful way to combat depression.
Chilies aid in weight loss
Got some serious weight loss goals? Why not add more chilies to your dish? While cutting calorie intake and exercising regularly are still the best ways to prevent weight gain, adding some heat in your dishes can boost your efforts!
Several studies suggest that chili consumption raises body heat and boosts metabolism.
Eating hot peppers or adding them to your dishes also prevents overeating as they make you feel satisfied more quickly.
A study found that the capsaicin in hot peppers can quash your appetite, and boost your energy use, supporting your weight loss goals. Separate research also found that capsinoids in peppers also reduce body fat.
How Much Chili is Good for You
According to the New York University Langone Medical Center, capsaicin is generally safe for human consumption. Researchers use about 2.5 grams of chili peppers per day in scientific studies.
The safest level of cayenne supplement intake containing capsaicin is between 0.5 and 1-gram dosages three times per day. Such supplements, though, must be consumed before meals.
It is also essential to note that different chilies vary in capsaicin levels. The spice of peppers highly depends on their capsaicin content.
The higher the capsaicin level, the spicier the pepper is. This is why some chilies are hotter than others.
Mild jalapeños and ancho chilies, for instance, contain low capsaicin levels, so they may be the perfect choice for people who cannot tolerate super spicy foods.
But, if you want the hotter varieties, you can opt for habanero peppers and Thai bird’s eye chili peppers, which are a staple in Caribbean and Southeast Asian cuisines.
How to Choose and Store Chilies
Tips for choosing chilies
To reap the amazing chili health benefits, you need to select and store your chilies well. When you shop for chili peppers, pick the ones that have bright and rich colors, and firm and tight skins.
Make sure that the chilies you choose have fresh and hardy stems. It’s also important to check if the peppers have black spots and wrinkled and squishy areas. If they do, avoid them, and search for fresher ones.
Meantime, if you’re purchasing dried peppers, pick the ones that still have bright colors. The paler the color of the pepper, the higher the chance it has lost its flavor as well.
Both fresh and dried peppers can be found in most groceries and supermarkets all throughout the year. So, take advantage of this when you’re craving for a hot meal.
But while most supermarkets make peppers widely available, it’s highly recommended to explore ethnic markets and spice shops within your area.
These specialty stores often offer an extensive array of herbs and spices that have better quality and flavors than the ones being sold in regular markets.
If you ever find one, shop for organically cultivated peppers as they are less likely irradiated.
Tips for storing chilies
To preserve their freshness, you should store your unwashed peppers in your refrigerator’s veggie compartment. But, place them first in a paper wrap or paper towels.
Keep in mind that paper alternatives are better than plastic bags when it comes to storing your peppers as plastic accumulates moist, which can spoil them more quickly.
Remember also to consume your peppers within a week from their storage.
Meantime, if you want to dry your fresh peppers, hung them in an area with abundant sunlight. Once they dry, you can ground them to produce chili powder.
When storing dried peppers and chili powders, use tightly sealed jars. Also, remember to keep these jars away from sunlight during storage.
How to Cook Using Chili Peppers
The capsaicin found in hot peppers can cause a burning sensation. So, take extra caution when preparing and cooking fresh chilies. Wear thin gloves if possible before you handle them.
But whether you have gloves or not, remember to wash your hands properly after working with peppers. Also, clean your chopping board and cutting knife well after preparing your chilies for cooking.
If you want to reduce the heat of your peppers, you can remove their inner membranes and seeds where the capsaicin mostly resides.
Most of the health properties lie in the capsaicin, so removing these parts may also reduce the pepper’s healing effects.
As we’ve earlier mentioned, the heat of peppers varies depending on their capsaicin content. So, you may need to adjust their amounts when cooking with them.
Before you add chilies to your recipe, it’s best for you to begin with small amounts and gradually increase it from there until you reach your desired spiciness level.
Since they are so easy to use, you can add your chilies to almost any of your meals, and even make your own hot sauce using them! Spice up your stews, casseroles, pasta dishes, and other savory meals by incorporating chili peppers into them.
Some Key Points to Remember
Capsaicin may cause irritation, making you feel a burning sensation in your hands, lips, and eyes. So, be cautious when handling hot peppers and avoid touching your eyes and lips when you’re working on them.
To be safe from such an irritation, it’s best to wear gloves, mask, or goggles if it’ll also make you feel comfortable.
If the chilies are too hot for you, you can gulp a glass of milk. The casein in milk will help drench the heat of capsaicin.
Chilies are a great addition to dishes, especially if you want to elevate your meals’ heat and flavor. They are also a rich source of important compounds that bring several impressive health benefits.
Adding chili peppers to your diet can boost your weight loss efforts, promote heart and digestive health, and even reduce your risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
But while chilies boast these wonderful health effects, they may cause a burning sensation too, which may be unpleasant, especially for those who are not used to peppers.
This is preventable, though, by following some of the hacks we’ve mentioned. If you’re uncertain about chili intake because of a medical condition or a specific medication, it’s best to seek professional advice.
Healthcare professionals will help you understand better the effects of chilies on your body, given your health profile and certain diet restrictions.