Eating chili peppers can bring a short-term sense of euphoria and well-being with long-term nutritional benefits to the body.
Spicy hot and robustly flavorful, chili peppers offer an experience in adventurous eating. Beyond their tantalizing taste, they are laden with nutritional value and properties that support health and healing.
Studies found that people who regularly eat chili peppers showed a noticeable difference in lowering the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and stroke compared with those who either do not eat or those who rarely eat chili peppers.
The Story of ‘Grandma Chili’
In China, more than 35 percent of people like to eat chili peppers. China is also the country with the largest area of pepper cultivation and the highest consumption of peppers in the world. Although the history of chili pepper in China is only a few hundred years old, it has become an indispensable item on many Chinese dinner tables.
There is even an old tale about them.
It is said that a long time ago, there was an old lady living healthily and enjoying longevity in a small mountain village. People called her “Grandma Chili” because the secret of her longevity was eating a lot of chili peppers every day. She credited chili peppers with keeping her body healthy and for prolonging her life. People in the village were very curious about her living habits. So, one day, a young man went to her house and asked her, “When you eat so many chili peppers every day, do you feel very spicy and uncomfortable?” “Grandma Chili” replied with a smile, “Yes indeed. Eating chili peppers makes me feel a bit spicy but it never brings me any pain. It just makes me feel extremely pleasant and joyful.”
The granny went on to say that every time she ate chili peppers, her mouth and tongue would be stimulated by its heat, which made her feel happy and full of energy. So, the young man tried them himself. It was very spicy at first bite, but soon after, he felt exceptionally relaxed. So, purely out of curiosity, he asked the old lady, “Why does chili pepper make you feel happy?” Unfortunately, although she did derive happiness from eating chilis Grandma Chili did not know why.
The Efficacy of Chili Pepper
Modern-day scientific studies confirm that the capsaicin in chili peppers can stimulate the brain to secrete endorphins, which are natural analgesics and “happy” hormones. In addition, when we eat chili peppers, it promotes the release of dopamine in the brain, which also gives us a feeling of elation and satisfaction. Experiencing sensual pleasures like these helps people feel more life-loving and thereby promotes health.
In fact, the health benefits of chili peppers go far beyond such tangible pleasures. One study found that people who regularly consumed chili pepper had a 13 percent lower risk of death from all different causes combined, including a 17 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, an 8 percent lower risk of cancer death, as well as a reduction of 20 percent in the risk of death from stroke, compared with people who never or rarely eat chili pepper.
A research article published in the Journal of Diabetes in 2019 analyzed the eating habits and the relationship with metabolic diseases of more than 200 million Chinese people. They used the results to produce a distribution map that among other data, indicated that people who favor chili pepper may have a lower risk of developing diabetes.
In July 2021, Peking University analyzed data from nearly 54,000 people, aged 30–79 in Zhejiang province and found that among alcohol drinkers, those who daily eat spicy food have only a 2 percent lower risk of developing high blood pressure than those who never eat spicy food. But among the non-drinkers, those who eat chili pepper every day have a 28 percent lower risk of high blood pressure. In other words, if you like eating chili peppers and you drink alcohol, the benefits brought about by eating the chili peppers will be offset by the alcohol.
In 2015, Oxford University, Harvard University, and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences jointly published an 8-year-long study in the British Medical Journal after following nearly 500,000 Chinese people aged between 30 and 79. The study found that people who ate chili peppers daily had a lower risk of premature death and that regular chili pepper consumption was particularly associated with a lower risk of death from cancer, heart, and respiratory diseases.
Nutritional Value of Chili Pepper
Why do chili peppers have so many health benefits?
Chili peppers are rich in nutrients, such as vitamin C. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that protects cells from free radical damage, and enhances immune system functionalities and collagen synthesis. In addition, peppers also contain beta-carotene, the precursor of vitamin A, which can be converted into the latter inside the body and is essential for the health of the eyes, skin, and mucous membranes, as well as the normal growth and development of the body.
Chili peppers are rich in folic acid, which is important for fetal nervous system development and red blood cell synthesis.
They also contain a variety of minerals, including potassium, magnesium, iron, and zinc, which help maintain normal physiological functions, bone health, and red blood cell formation.
In addition, chili peppers are rich in dietary fiber, which can enhance digestive system health, maintain normal intestinal function, prevent constipation, and regulate blood sugar levels.
The last and most important thing is capsaicin. Capsaicin in peppers is the substance that gives peppers their spiciness. It also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and has certain benefits for cardiovascular health and cancer prevention.
Cautions for Chili Pepper Intake
In general, most people can eat chili peppers in moderation, but some people may be allergic to them or feel uncomfortable after eating them—especially people with health problems including acid reflux, gastric ulcers, and gastritis. These people should avoid eating chili peppers.
For some people, spicy foods may irritate the gastric mucosa. Excessive intake of chili peppers may cause adverse intestinal reactions, such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, and gastrointestinal discomfort, so they are best eaten in moderation. For people with oral problems, such as oral ulcers, stomatitis, and oral allergy, eating chili peppers may cause additional pain, so it is best to avoid eating them.
Naturally, people who are allergic to chili peppers should avoid eating them. Symptoms of acute allergy to peppers include skin redness and swelling, difficulty breathing, and skin itching.
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