AHA News: Today’s Hot Topic: Should You Let Chile Peppers Spice Up Your Meals?

FRI, Jan 14, 2022 (American Heart Association News) — For thousands of years, people have been picking chile peppers to fuel their pizza diets.

There is no doubt that chili is full of flavour. They also provide a little fiber without salt, sugar, saturated fat, or a lot of calories, said Professor Linda Van Horn, MD, chief of nutrition at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

In fact, according to the USDA, a raw red chile pepper — 45 grams, or about 1.6 ounces — contains just 18 calories.

But Van Horn said chile peppers as a vegetable are relatively low in nutritional value. “They offer little to no beta-carotene, but nothing that can compare to carrots.”

It’s true that an ounce in a pepper contains more vitamin C than an orange. But Van Horn said vitamin C is not usually a nutrient of concern in the United States. And even in cultures where chili plays a larger role, other vegetables—tomatoes, onions, cabbage, kale, and spinach—can be easy sources.

If you prefer peppers in flakes or powders, be aware that raw foods tend to be more nutritionally effective than the dried ones, Van Horn said.

It’s also a case where spelling matters. (More on that in a moment.) Red pepper powder, or flakes, is made from dried chili peppers. The chips have no nutritional value.

Chili powder (with an “i”) is actually a mixture of red pepper, other spices, and salt. So even though one tablespoon still provides beta-carotene (which your body uses to make vitamin A), it adds 230 milligrams of sodium. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams per day, with an ideal limit of 1,500 milligrams for most adults.

Most commercially grown red peppers are of the Capsicum annual, which is nothing if not so versatile. This Latin term covers hundreds of common names, including cayenne pepper but also jalapeno pepper and Thai pepper.

The roots of modern Chilean peppers are intertwined, with evidence that a common ancestor plant evolved in South America and was then domesticated nearly 10,000 years ago at multiple locations across the hemisphere. However, red pepper is not related to black pepper. For this much linguistic confusion, we can thank Christopher Columbus, who introduced pepper to Europe. They quickly spread all over the world from there.

Also a hot topic: how to spell “Chile”. The debate could fill an entire article, but the latest guidance from the Associated Press, which sets standards for journalists, says vegetables are “chiles.”

The real problem with pepper is capsaicin. It doesn’t actually burn you, but it tricks your brain into feeling that sensation. It is what distinguishes sweet pepper from hot pepper.

You may do more. A new analysis published in the American Journal of Preventive Cardiology combines the results of previous studies on the benefits of capsaicin and finds that regular consumption of chili peppers is associated with “significantly” lower rates of overall mortality, including deaths from cardiovascular disease and cancer. Compared to scarce or no consumption.

However, that review attempted to draw on data from more than 4,700 scientific papers – and found only four that met the inclusion criteria. The authors wrote that more studies are needed to determine what happens and how it might affect adding chili peppers to your diet.

Van Horn said other research has looked at the potential use of capsaicin as a weight loss aid. Adding more pepper to a Tex-Mex dish or sprinkling chips on the orange chicken won’t do much, she said. She noted that eating a lot of pepper can trigger an inflammatory response and stomach problems in sensitive individuals.

For her, it’s best to use chili to help add flavor to healthy things you might not enjoy. She uses them regularly in guacamole, chili, and other bean dishes.

“In general, chili peppers should be viewed as flavorings such as garlic, basil, and oregano that enhance the taste of other foods but are not a meal in and of themselves.”

American Heart Association news covers heart and brain health. Not all opinions expressed in this story reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Copyright is owned or operated by the American Heart Association, Inc. , All rights reserved. If you have questions or comments about this story, please email editor@heart.org.

Written by Michael Marshall

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