Chilli is known for its spicy taste in everything from soups to salsa. Although best known for its culinary uses, chili peppers also boast a long list of health benefits.
Not only does this spicy superfood contain a range of antioxidants, but it has also been proven that chili peppers improve digestive health, lower blood pressure and speed up fat burning.
In this article, we will consider scientifically proven facts about the benefits and harms of chili peppers for the human body.
What is the chili pepper?
Chili pepper, also known under the scientific name Capsicum annuum , is a type of nightshade vegetable in the Americas. There are many different varieties of chili peppers, each of which differs in size, shape and severity.
For example, sweet peppers come in colors from red to green, yellow, or orange. Cayenne peppers, on the other hand, are much brighter and, as a rule, red, long and “skinny”.
Chili pepper is considered one of the main ingredients in the kitchen around the world. Chili peppers are often used to add flavor and bitterness to Vietnamese, Mexican, Indian, Thai, Arabic and Spanish dishes.
Throughout history, chili peppers have also been used to treat various diseases. For example, Mayans used chili peppers to treat respiratory illnesses such as asthma and cough, while the Aztecs used peppers to relieve toothache.
In other countries, chili peppers have also been used to treat headaches, joint stiffness, heart problems, and more.
Varieties of chili peppers
There are many different types of chili peppers, ranging from soft chili peppers, such as sweet bell peppers, to Caroline Riper peppers, which have been hailed as the sharpest chili peppers in the world.
The severity of these peppers is classified according to the Scoville scale for chili peppers, which measures and records the severity of pepper in Scoville thermal units (SHU) based on their capsaicinoid content.
In addition to severity ranking, they also vary by color and size.
Aji Cristal pepper, for example, a small pepper is distinguished by its bright red color. Conversely, Holy Moth pepper is a type of green chili pepper that can grow up to nine inches in length.
Here are some of the most common types of chili peppers:
- bell pepper
- pepper blanched
- Aleppo pepper
- Cayenne pepper
- chiltepin pepper
- banana pepper
- pepper aji crystal
- ghost chili
- anaheim chili
- serrano pepper
- thai chili
Nutritional value and beneficial substances
Although the specific nutrients and compounds found in chili peppers may vary with different varieties of peppers, most of them are rich in a variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. In particular, chili peppers have a high content of vitamin C, folate and vitamin A, as well as many other important trace elements.
Half a cup of red chili pepper contains the following nutrients ( 1 ):
- Calorie content – 30 kcal
- Carbohydrates – 6.5 gr.
- Protein – 1.5 g.
- Fats – 0.5 gr.
- Fiber – 1 gr.
- Vitamin C – 108 mg (180% of the daily norm)
- Folate – 0.4 mg (19%)
- Vitamin A – 714ME (14%)
- Vitamin K – 10.5 mcg (13%)
- Potassium – 241 mg (7%)
- Manganese – 0.1 mg (7%)
- Copper – 0.1 mg (5%)
- Niacin – 0.9 mg (5%)
Hot peppers are also rich in other beneficial compounds, including antioxidants such as capsaicin, which is responsible for giving the peppers their signature spicy flavor. Peppers also contain other antioxidants and carotenoids, such as:
- Ferulic acid
- Beta cryptoxanthin
- Beta carotene
The benefits of chili pepper for the body
Unsurprisingly, chili peppers, rich in various vitamins, minerals, and health-promoting substances, have a long list of potential health benefits.
1. Helps increase fat burning
Chili pepper has been carefully studied for its ability to accelerate metabolism and accelerate fat burning, mainly due to the content of capsaicin. Interestingly, capsaicin increases energy expenditure, i.e. the amount of calories your body burns during the day ( 2 ).
It can also stimulate the breakdown of fat stored in the body so that it turns into “fuel”.
Not only can chili peppers also contribute to weight loss by reducing hunger and appetite. One study in the International Journal of Obesity even showed that consuming capsaicin before meals improves satiety and decreases subsequent fat and calorie intake ( 3 ).
2. May provide pain relief
Numerous studies show that the benefits of chili pepper for the body are manifested in the ability to relieve pain. This is due to the fact that capsaicin, the main compound found in chili peppers, can bind to pain receptors in the body and reduce pain perception ( 4 ).
Capsaicin may also offer relief from other forms of pain, including heartburn and acid reflux ( 5 ). A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that taking red pepper in people with an upset stomach over a five-week period reduced the pain associated with heartburn ( 6 ).
3. Rich in antioxidants
Chili pepper contains antioxidants that can neutralize free radicals and protect against chronic diseases. In particular, chili peppers are especially rich in vitamin A and vitamin C, two important trace elements that serve as antioxidants in the body.
Chili peppers are also an excellent source of other antioxidants such as capsanthin, lutein, ferulic acid and zeaxanthin.
4. Helps lower blood pressure
Promising studies show that chili peppers can potentially help lower your blood pressure to keep your heart healthy. This may be due to the ability of capsaicin to increase the level of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), an important hormone that can help dilate blood vessels and provide protection against high blood pressure ( 7 ).
According to one study in Japan, the administration of capsaicin and isoflavone (another beneficial plant compound) to people with high blood pressure was effective in increasing IGF-1 levels and lowering both systolic and diastolic blood pressure ( 8 ). Similarly, an animal model published in Cell Biology showed that capsaicin intake can activate a specific protein involved in blood pressure regulation, which can help prevent an increase in blood pressure ( 9 ).
5. May improve digestive health
In folk medicine, chili peppers have been used to treat various digestive ailments, including indigestion, acid reflux, stomach ulcers, and loss of appetite. With over 200 natural compounds identified in these potent peppers, they can help regulate gastric secretion, fight pathogens in the digestive tract, enhance the protective mechanisms of the stomach, and stimulate digestion ( 10 ).
Some studies also show that the benefits of chili pepper for the body and capsaicin, in particular, are that it can help treat and prevent stomach ulcers. A review from India noted that capsaicin can inhibit acid secretion, increase mucus secretion, and stimulate blood flow in the stomach to help improve ulcers and wounds ( 11 ).
6. May extend longevity
In addition to improving numerous aspects of overall health, chili peppers can potentially extend lifespan and reduce the risk of death. In fact, according to an extensive study among more than 16,000 people, an increase in consumption of hot red chili was associated with a lower risk of mortality on average for almost 19 years ( 12 ).
Although it’s unclear why eating peppers can increase longevity, researchers suggest that this may be due to the presence of capsaicin, which can improve bowel health and act as an antioxidant to reduce inflammation.
How to cook chili peppers
There are many ways to incorporate this unique ingredient into your daily diet. Try chopping peppers and adding to soups, stews, fried potatoes or fried eggs for an extra flavor.
Chili pepper is also a great addition to sauces, salsa, bean salads and even burgers.
Risks and side effects
Despite the fact that allergic reactions to chili peppers are rare, there are cases. Usually side effects are manifested in the form of urticaria, itching and swelling. If you experience these or other side effects after consuming chili peppers, discontinue use immediately and consult your doctor.
In addition, while many enjoy the characteristic spicy aroma of chili peppers, it can also cause a burning sensation in the mouth or on the skin. In fact, direct exposure to the skin of chili peppers can cause an unpleasant condition.
Using gloves is an easy way to prevent skin irritation when slicing or cooking pepper. If skin irritation does appear, there are many options that can soothe, including rubbing your hands with vegetable oil or milk.
Some people may also be especially sensitive to chili peppers. For these people, consumption can cause digestive upsets, including abdominal pain, diarrhea, and cramps.
Hot peppers can also cause heartburn in people with acid reflux.
In addition, studies on the relationship between cancer and chili pepper consumption have been mixed. While some studies have shown that capsaicin in chili peppers can block the growth and spread of cancer cells, other studies have shown that increased consumption of spicy foods may be associated with a higher risk of cancer ( 13 , 14 ).
Therefore, more research is needed to evaluate how chili peppers can affect cancer.
- Chili pepper is a type of nightshade vegetables known for its healthy properties.
- There are a number of different types of peppers that can vary in color, size and severity of taste.
- Some common varieties of chili peppers include cayenne pepper, sweet pepper, serrano pepper, blanched pepper and Thai chili pepper.
- Potential benefits of chili peppers include faster fat burning, pain relief, lower blood pressure and better digestion.
- However, chili peppers can cause skin irritation, and can also cause indigestion or heartburn in some people. In addition, more research is needed on the relationship between chili and cancer.