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Peppers: Hot and Healthy

Hot Pepper
Photo by Darwin Bell via Flickr

One time, back when I used to live in the Seattle area, I went to a popular lunch spot in Bellevue called Dixie’s.  It was a southern BBQ restaurant (not healthy mind you) that looked like it might have been an automotive shop before.  What made this place special for many people was two things: LJ and the pot of his special, extremely hot sauce he carried around his establishment called “The Man.” LJ would walk around the tables holding his pot and a big metal spoon in front of him and ask people if they wanted to, “Meet the Man.” Whoever said yes, would receive the amount they requested spooned onto their meal.  Of course, some like it hot and some like it not.  For me, it was not.  That hot sauce was intolerably hot.  It made my mouth feel like it was on fire and made my nose run uncontrollably.

Feeling like my mouth was on fire, my gut reaction was to drink water to quench the burning in my mouth. But, that only spread the fire and made it worse.  The only thing that finally gave me a tiny bit of relief was eating a piece of cornbread.  Let me tell you, that experience at Dixie’s was one that I will never forget.

What makes them hot? And what makes it stop?
Chili peppers, such as cayenne, jalapeño and habañero peppers, contain a chemical compound called capsaicin, which is responsible for their heat.  Sometimes, when people eat chili peppers the heat gets out of control.  When that happens, many people turn to water to stop the burning.  Unfortunately, drinking water increases the intensity of the heat by spreading the fire around the mouth.  That is something that most people do not want!  Rice, bread or milk are a few ways to combat the fiery compound found in peppers.  Milk is the best choice because it has a protein called casein, which neutralizes capsaicin and reduces or stops the burning.  Although nothing seems to completely stop “The Man,” those items definitely help.

How are hot peppers healthy?
Research studies have shown that hot peppers have beneficial properties and are high in nutrients.

  1. High in antioxidants: Hot peppers are a great source of vitamin C and vitamin A, two antioxidants that help prevent cell damage, cancer and other medical conditions related to aging.
  2. Heart healthy benefits: Preliminarily studies have found that capsaicin, the chemical which is responsible for the heat, might actually help lower blood cholesterol and triglycerides.  This would reduce the overall risk of cardiovascular disease, if it is true.
  3. May lower risk of diabetes: Capsaicin may also help to regulate blood sugar levels, decreasing the risk of diabetes.

So, the next time you are cooking a dish that you feel is bland, instead of adding salt, which is unhealthy if you consume too much, add a little hot pepper.  It is a healthier alternative.  But, don’t add too much.  You might get more heat than you were bargaining for.

Comments (2)

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  1. pablo says:

    Thx! I learned something – water on burning hot pepper mouth is like gasoline on a fire!

  2. Mark says:

    Wow! I learned something new! I thought I was the pepper expert! Thank you! 🙂

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