To people who can’t tolerate spicy foods, the burning sensation chili peppers cause is definitely “pain,” while for others who love some heat in their food, this sensation is a delicate balance between pain and pleasure. The chemical in hot chili peppers that causes the burning, painful sensation is called capsaicin. Capsaicin, indeed, is an irritant that deters animals from eating the fruits; obviously it doesn’t deter us humans from devouring them.
Top 5 Reasons to Eat Spicy Foods
- Protect your stomach liningMany people still believe that hot chili pepper irritates the stomach and causes gastric ulcers. This myth has been rebutted by a body of research that proves otherwise. Researchers now belief that capsaicin actually inhibits acid secretion and stimulates alkali and mucus secretions, as well as blood flow to the stomach lining, which can help in the prevention and healing of ulcers. Have a weak stomach? Bring on the spicy food!
- Keep your heart healthyRecent studies have revealed that eating chili peppers regularly may help your cardiovascular system in more ways than one. A 2006 study performed by Australian researchers showed that regular consumption of chili for 4 weeks decreases the oxidation of LDL-cholesterol (the oxidation of LDL-cholesterol is thought to contribute to atherosclerosis). In addition, a Chinese study published in August 2010 demonstrated that consumption of chili peppers can relax the blood vessel walls and prevent hypertension.
- Help prevent cancerNumerous studies have been performed to examine capsaicin’s anti-cancer properties. For example, a study published in April 2010 by researchers from the Edwards School of Medicine in West Virginia suggested that capsaicin can inhibit the proliferation of human lung cancer cells. Some other studies have indicated that capsaicin can induce cell death in cancer cells, while leaving healthy cells intact.
- Reduce risk of Type 2 diabetesIn a study published in 2009, a group of Thai researchers measured participants’ blood sugar levels after a meal, and discovered that blood sugar levels were lower in the group who ate chili peppers. In an Australian study also published in 2006, researchers showed that less insulin is required to lower blood sugar if a meal contains chili pepper. This confirms that enjoying chili pepper can reduce your risk of hyperinsulinemia (high blood levels of insulin), which is a disorder associated with Type 2 diabetes.
- Replace salt in cookingWe are all encouraged to decrease our salt intake. Using spices, such as the various hot chili peppers (cayenne peppers, jalapenos, and red chili peppers), can instantly add a zing to a bland dish. You will forget about the salt shaker when the flavors explode on your tongue like fireworks.
The Bottom Line
Now that you know chili pepper can help protect your stomach and your cardiovascular system, and help prevent cancer and diabetes, be sure to enjoy more spicy foods, guilt-free! If you cannot handle the fiery heat, try to build up a tolerance gradually. Drinking milk or consuming milk products such as yogurt can “coat your tongue” and help you cool down after a spicy meal.
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Owennie is a registered dietitian with a soft spot for chocolate and coffee. She is a believer in balance and moderation, and is committed to keeping healthy eating enjoyable and fun. Owennie received her dietetics training in Vancouver, and is a member of Dietitians of Canada and the College of Dietitians of British Columbia. She has experience in a wide variety of settings, such as clinical nutrition, long-term care and outpatient counseling. Owennie has also worked for a community nutrition hotline and participated regularly as a guest radio host, where she enjoyed sharing her passion and knowledge about food and nutrition with people.