Nutrition and Health Benefits from Peppers

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Nutrition and Health Benefits from Peppers
by Dan Gerhardt · All Zones · Food Nutrition · 0 Comments · March 15, 2011 · 3,136 views

Peppers - The Heat is On

Real peppers wear sunglasses and listen to rock music. Nobody really knows why this is so, but we have our suspicions. Peppers will get you into trouble. They are known for that - always getting you into trouble. Peppers are the cadillacs of the upwardly mobile underworld. Notice now, how we slide around and spin it into neutral, once again kicking up the desert sand, while switching gears and shifting up the heat. Oh no, we're not staying in Vegas, baby; we are on the run and we are leaving Elvis and his infamous peanut butter and banana pepper sandwiches behind. We're heading south in so many ways - bad company, you know. South of the solar plexus, south of the sun-setting horizon, south of the border, to Mexico - haven of criminal injustice, and the ultimate destination of any conquistador worth their salt. The peppers are risen and they are risen as gods, as kings. Eat your heart out, Elvis, which is exactly what real peppers do; leaving behind a frito bandito trail of molten flesh and burning love. When the heat is on, and the posse is closing in fast, we're not talking green horns, green beans, or green way, baby. We're talking hip-hopping, jaw-dropping, eye-popping flavour and licking flames of fire as certain and furious as a woman's scorn. Now that's hot! Leave the flea-bitten sweet stuff on the stagecoach and go for the gold, go for the red hot chili peppers. Just don't drink the water.

Peppers in History

Peppers are a New World food, introduced to Europeans during Columbus' voyage to the West Indies. Peppers were also found in abundance across South America, Central America, and Mexico. The history of the medicinal use of cayenne dates back thousands of years. The ancient Aztecs get the credit for coining the name "chili" pepper.

Types of Peppers

Peppers come in many different varieties and all are nutritious and contain vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Peppers can be split into two groups: sweet peppers and hot peppers.

Sweet Peppers - Of the sweet peppers, the bell pepper is the most widely recognized. The riper and sweeter the bell pepper, the more lycopene present, so red bell peppers are more tatsty and nutritious than their younger orange, yellow, or green brethren. Bell peppers contain a substance thought to lower the risk of lung cancer and red bell peppers fall just behind tomatoes in their lycopene content, which is a carotene that helps to protect against cancer and heart disease. Bell peppers are a good source of vitamin C, thiamine, vitamin B6, beta carotene, and folic acid. Bell peppers also contain a large amount of phytochemicals that have, you guessed it, antioxidant activity. Bell peppers have been shown to be protective against cataracts, prevent blood clot formation, and reduce the risk of heart attacks. Of course, there are many other varieties of sweet peppers- so many that we will not be able to individually get into all of them here.

Hot Peppers are generally classed by their degree of heat. Ever heard of a Scoville Rating? In 1912, Wilbur Scoville created a system that rates the heat-producing content of peppers. Sweet peppers rate zero on the Scoville Heat Unit scale, while most hot peppers rate in the thousands and top out at about 60,000 Scoville Heat Units.

Hot peppers also come in a wide variety of shapes, colors, and sizes and contain all kinds of health benefits, but the cayenne pepper, in particular, stands out in the crowd.

Nutritional benefits of cayenne peppers

The active ingredient that gives cayenne pepper it's heat is an alkaloid called Capsaicin, which stimulates specific receptor sites located on the human nervous system. Capsaicin cream is known to help alleviate pain associated with arthritis and neuralgia. The cayenne pepper also contains a myriad of vitamins, minerals, and glycosides that help support multiple systems and functions of the body. Cayenne pepper contains vitamins E and C - which are good for the heart and circulatory system, vitamins A and B-complexes - which are good for the gastrointestinal and nervous systems, respectively, and the minerals Zinc, Calcium, Phosphorous, and Iron which are essential for proper immune system function. Of course, please keep in mind that many of these vitamins and functions overlap one another and remember that the body works synergistically together as a whole. Many researchers have also concluded that cayenne acts as a catalyst that helps the body absorb and deliver other nutrients throughout the body, mostly due to cayenne's ability to cleanse the lining of the gut and increase blood circulation. Many herbalist practitioners will add cayenne to a regimen of other herbs for this purpose alone.

Potential health benefits of Cayenne Peppers:

* Promotes heart health

* Improved digestion

* Improved circulation

* Enhanced metabolism

* Enhanced immune function

* Pain relief

* Improved lung and respiratory function

There are plenty of other claims out there as to the effectiveness of cayenne pepper, mostly based on anectodal evidence, for everything from headaches to hemmorrhoids. Not to say that we must have a scientific study to prove or disprove any and all claims foerever more. Mankind has been using trial and error methods for millenia. We don't really need a study to prove to us that if we roll around in poison ivy, that most of us would suffer immensely. Sure, it is nice to know the name of the irritating compound responsible for the itching rash associated with poison ivy, urishiol, but that substance is present regardless of any fancy name that we label it with. Speaking of poison ivy, some people claim that mixing crushed cayenne powder with a little water and applying the paste to the rash will relieve the itch and hasten the recovery time. Well, it sure looks like plenty of people have been experimenting with cayenne. There are accounts of people snorting it up the nose, rubbing it on the temples, mixing it with all kinds of other herbs, and, as far as the hemmorhoid thing goes, well, you can imagine. To each his own, I guess.

More on peppers later. Until then, don't forget to grow and eat your peppers!

Dan Gerhardt

Meet The Author

Dan Gerhardt - Aside from being a life-long gardener, Dr. Dan Gerhardt is a chiropractor and nutritionist.

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