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Healing heat: The life-prolonging benefits of jalapeño peppers

Healing heat: The life-prolonging benefits of jalapeño peppers

Some like a blaze of sudden heat, while others prefer a milder burn.  But, for millions of people around the world, hot chili peppers are a “given”- a beloved ingredient in favorite recipes and an important addition to the daily diet.

Of all the chili peppers, jalapeño peppers are the most popular. Commonly used to heat up Mexican and Southwestern cuisine, they are also prized in Italian and Indian cuisines. Now, research has shown that jalapeños have more to offer than just their heat. Their active constituent, a compound known as capsaicin, provides a range of surprising health benefits that include fighting chronic diseases, reducing pain – and more. 

"Rev up” your metabolism with jalapeño peppers

Capsaicin in jalapeño peppers is a thermogenic, meaning that it stimulates lipid oxidation (fat-burning)  by increasing the metabolism of the body’s adipose tissue. If you’re wondering by how much, researchers have the answer – jalapeños can stimulate metabolism by as much as 5 percent a day.

In a review of 90 different studies published in Appetite, the investigators reported a hidden highlight from the research: consumption of capsaicin-containing peppers increased fat-burning metabolism by 50 calories a day.  Incidentally, that’s enough to produce clinically significant levels of weight loss within one to two years.  And, eating jalapeños can reduce appetite and cause people to consume less calories.

More good news: a clinical study published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that capsaicin was associated with increased fat burning and loss of abdominal fat.  The consensus by researchers seems to be that while capsaicin isn’t a “magic bullet” for weight loss, it can significantly reduce risk of becoming overweight or obese over time.

What’s not to like about that?

Study say ... jalapeño and other chili peppers can help people avoid the threat of ulcers

For decades, doctors warned their patients with gastric ulcers to avoid chili peppers.  Although this sounds sensible, it turns out to be bad advice.  While some people experience heartburn after eating spicy peppers, research has shown that spicy peppers neither cause nor aggravate these painful lesions in the stomach lining.

In fact, the opposite is true! Surprisingly, laboratory studies support the ability of capsaicin to inhibit H. pylori, the bacteria responsible for many ulcers.

In addition, chili peppers also help to protect the stomach lining.  Clinical and animal studies suggest that capsaicin in peppers enhances the action of protective antioxidants such as superoxide dismutase and glutathione – and can help prevent gastric damage from anti-inflammatory drugs and alcohol.

For many, jalapeño peppers offer the perfect degree of spiciness

Jalapeño peppers score between 2,500 and 8,000 on the Scoville Heat Units scale, the typical method of measuring capsaicin levels and spiciness. This puts them in the low-to-medium spiciness range, meaning that, for many hardcore spice lovers, jalapeños are a “walk on the mild side.”

Others, however, might find them too hot to be eaten raw - but perfect for cooking.

If you are concerned about the heat factor, some health experts warn that you should avoid jalapeños that appear scarred or lined.  This can indicate that they are particularly spicy.  You can also limit spiciness by removing the interior white membrane before cooking.

Of course, common sense should prevail. If you consistently experience bothersome mouth pain or heartburn after eating chili peppers, you should probably stop eating them.

If you crave the addictive spiciness of jalapeño peppers, there is no shortage of ways to enjoy them. Use them in salads, salsas, marinades and jams; blend them into a spicy smoothie, or stuff them with grass-fed beef.  Jalapeños may also be pickled, powdered and turned into chipotle peppers by a process of smoking and drying.

In addition to promoting weight loss and preventing ulcers, jalapeño and other chili peppers may help fight cancer, regulate blood sugar, reduce migraine pain and fight heart disease. In fact, a bombshell study published in PLoS One showed that regular consumption of chili peppers was associated with a 13 percent lower risk of dying from any cause – not too shabby!

Maybe it’s time to add some “heat” (and health dividends) to your diet with jalapeño peppers.

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