By American Heart Association News, Health Day reporter
FRIDAY, Jan. 14, 2022 (American Heart Association News) — For thousands of years, people have picked chili peppers to spice up their diets.
There is no doubt that chili peppers are bursting with flavor. They also provide a little bit of fiber without salt, sugar, saturated fat or a lot of calories, said Professor Linda Van Horn, chief of the nutrition division at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago.
In fact, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, one raw red chili pepper — 45 grams, or about 1.6 ounces — contains just 18 calories.
But chili peppers as a vegetable have relatively low nutritional value, Van Horn said. “They offer a little beta-carotene, but nothing like carrots.”
It’s true that ounce for ounce, a pepper has more vitamin C than an orange. But, Van Horn said, vitamin C is generally not a nutrient of concern in the United States. And even in crops where peppers play a bigger role, other vegetables — tomatoes, onions, cabbage, kale, spinach — can be easy sources.
If you prefer your peppers in flake or powdered form, be aware that raw foods tend to be more nutritionally powerful than the dried versions, Van Horn said.
This is also a case where spelling matters. (More on that in a moment.) Red chili powder, or flakes, is made from dried chili peppers. The flakes have virtually no nutritional value.
Chili powder (with an “i”) is actually a mixture of red chili, other spices, and salt. So while 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 mg for most adults.
Most commercially grown red peppers are of the Capsicum annuum species, which is nothing if not versatile. This Latin term covers hundreds of common names, including cayenne pepper but also jalapenos and Thai peppers.
The roots of modern chili peppers are tangled, with evidence that a common ancestor plant evolved in South America and then was domesticated 10,000 years ago at multiple sites across the hemisphere. However, red peppers are not related to black pepper. For this bit of linguistic confusion, we can thank Christopher Columbus, who introduced peppers to Europe. They quickly spread around the world from there.
Also a hot topic: how to spell “chili”. The debate could fill an entire article, but the latest guidelines from the Associated Press, which sets the standards for journalists, say vegetables are “peppers.”
The really burning issue with peppers is the capsaicin substance. It doesn’t really burn you, but it tricks your brain into feeling that sensation. This is what distinguishes a sweet pepper from a hot pepper.
It could do more. A new analysis published in the American Journal of Preventive Cardiology combined the results of previous studies on the benefits of capsaicin and found that regular consumption of chili peppers was associated with “significantly” lower rates of overall mortality, including deaths from cardiovascular disease and cancer. compared to rare or no consumption.
This review, however, attempted to draw on data from more than 4,700 scientific papers – and found only four that met the standards for inclusion. More studies are needed to identify what’s going on and how it might impact adding chili peppers to your diet, the authors wrote.
Van Horn said other research has looked at the potential use of capsaicin as a weight loss aid. But adding extra peppers to a Tex-Mex platter or sprinkling flakes on your orange chicken won’t do much, she said. Eating too many peppers, she pointed out, can even trigger an inflammatory reaction and stomach issues in sensitive people.
For her, chili peppers are best used to help add flavor to healthy things that you might not otherwise enjoy. She regularly uses them in guacamole, meatless chili, and other bean dishes.
“Overall, chili peppers should be viewed as flavorings like garlic, basil, or oregano that enhance the taste of other foods but are not a meal on their own.”
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