What’s the hottest pepper Peter Piper picked? The Scoville scale will help to answer ALL of your heated questions in a calm, cool, and collected manner. Yet there’s more to the pepper than just the heat. That heat also helps us understand the health benefits of hot peppers.
Peppers come in all shapes and sizes and in a variety of colors ranging from green to yellow to orange to red. No matter the color, I would label all of them as “superfoods” because they are not only versatile—they can be used a dozen different ways—but they are low in calories and are loaded with a ton of good nutrition no matter where they land on the Scoville scale.
Regardless of which pepper you pick, each variety is an excellent source of vitamins A and C, potassium, folic acid, and fiber.
Some peppers are sweet, while others are more mild, but then there are others that pack some serious heat.
The Secret Ingredient in Hot Peppers: Capsaicin
According to Beth Warren, MS, RDN, CDN, and founder and CEO of Beth Warren Nutrition and author of Living Real Life with Real Food (Skyhorse), consuming hot peppers may even help reduce pain. “You release endorphins when you eat hot peppers to block the pain from the heat, which is why they are used to help treat all kinds of arthritis pain as well as for neuropathic pain and dermatologic conditions that have a painful itch,” Warren explains.
What’s more, hot pepper consumption has been found to help decrease appetite and increase metabolism. Could this be a possible path to support weight loss?
The compound in peppers responsible for bringing the heat is called capsaicin. Capsaicin is found in every part of the pepper other than the seeds. The highest concentration of capsaicin is found where the seeds attach on the inner wall, which is one reason it’s recommended to remove the seeds and that membrane if you want to cut down on the heat of your peppers.
Here are some of the burning questions I’ve received about what capsaicin is and the health benefits of hot peppers.
How Does Capsaicin Work?
Capsaicin binds to a vanilloid receptor known as TRPV1. These receptors turn on with heat not only when you consume spicy peppers but also when cells signal that they’ve been physically burned or injured. Once bound to the receptor, signals are sent to the brain to let it know it’s getting hot in here. This, in turn, triggers a mild inflammatory reaction to help repair the cells affected. This reaction is believed to be why peppers offer so many health benefits.
5 Health Benefits of Hot Peppers
1. Boost Metabolism & Increase Stamina
Capsaicin has properties that stimulate energy, especially when taken before exercising. Capsaicin-rich foods also help in one’s ability to increase workouts and aid in faster recovery after every strenuous physical activity. This is possible by increasing the body’s oxygen intake by up to 7.5%, making the lungs stronger and increasing oxygen absorption by the blood.
2. Increased Energy & Alertness
Studies have shown increased energy and alertness levels on a variety of test subjects due to capsaicin’s thermogenic effect.
3. Suppress Appetite
Capsaicin influences the thyroid hormone, which controls adrenaline and dopamine—two key hormones that control appetite. Research suggests that by consuming hot peppers, you could potentially decrease your appetite by up to 50%.
4. Aid in Digestion
Hot peppers have been used for hundreds of years to aid in the reduction of indigestion and gastrointestinal irregularities. For example, by helping boost production of digestive enzymes, capsaicin can increase the efficacy of nutrient absorption.
It may also help support carbohydrate digestion. For example, in a study conducted by the University of Maryland Medical Center, capsaicin was found to help control carbohydrate breakdown allowing for more efficient calorie consumption and energy production.
And studies have shown that sufficient amounts of capsaicin can stop the accumulation of fat in the liver by increasing the rate of breaking down lipids and converting them to energy.
5. Protects Cells From Damage
Capsaicin protects cells from cellular damage. Hot peppers contain phytochemicals in the forms of carotenoids and flavonoids, which are two powerful antioxidants shown to protect against free radicals.
Hot peppers are also a rich source of vitamins A and C that may help strengthen your immune system. These vitamins also work as potent antioxidants that may help to combat the visible signs of aging.
Health Benefits of Hot Peppers: A Recap
Hot peppers are well-known for adding flavor and kick to a variety of recipes. Yet there are also a wide range of health benefits of hot peppers, so go ahead and enjoy that little bit (or a lot!) of heat!