Hot, Hot, Hot! Cayenne Peppers
By Barbara Riordan
If you like spice, you are most likely familiar with the cayenne pepper. This long, thin red pepper is a member of the Solanaceae family whose peppers run from mild to super-hot. This family includes sweet bell peppers, jalapenos, serranoes and the notoriously hot ghost peppers. While cayenne peppers are not nearly as hot as ghost peppers, they still have quite a kick. The heat in Cayenne peppers comes from the capsaicin in them. The more the capsaicin in the pepper, the hotter it will be. Even peppers grown from the same plant can have a variation in their heat. This can be due to the plants access to water or salt in the soil during its flowering stage.
Thought to have originated from Cayenne, the capital of French Guiana, it has been grown all over the world, including here in Florida. It is frequently found dried and ground into a fine powder. Not only does it add a touch of heat to your food, it also has some great health benefits.
Cayenne peppers have been used medicinally for thousands of years. Cayenne is often referred to as chili, which is the Aztec name for cayenne pepper. It has an impressive nutritional profile. One tablespoon (5 grams) includes the following:
- Calories: 17
- Fat: 1 gram
- Carbs: 3 grams
- Fiber: 1.4 grams
- Protein: 0.6 grams
- Vitamin A: 44% of the RDI
- Vitamin E: 8% of the RDI
- Vitamin C: 7% of the RDI
- Vitamin B6: 6% of the RDI
- Vitamin K: 5% of the RDI
- Manganese: 5% of the RDI
- Potassium: 3% of the RDI
- Riboflavin: 3% of the RDI
Here are some science-backed benefits of cayenne pepper.
- Boost Metabolism, Reduce Hunger
It may boost your metabolism when consumed by increasing the amount of heat your body produces. This makes your body burn more calories, thus losing weight. Some other studies suggest that capsaicin can reduce the production of the hunger hormone ghrelin, causing you to eat less.
- Lower Blood Pressure
With over 40% of adults over 25 (worldwide) having high blood pressure, small dietary changes can add up. Studies in animals show long term consumption of dietary spices containing capsaicin can relax blood vessels which reduces the risk of heart disease.
- Pain Relief
When applied to the skin in a cream the capsaicin helps reduce the amount of substance P, a neuropeptide produced by the body that travels to the brain signaling pain.
- Improve Psoriasis
Autoimmune diseases are conditions in which the body attacks itself. Psoriasis is one of those. Capsaicin creams have been shown to significantly reduce the scaling, redness and patchiness that comes with this condition.
- Great Antioxidant
Cayenne contains large amounts of vitamin A which helps in maintaining good health, healthy skin and proper brain function. It also contains vitamin E which slows the aging process and keeps organs healthy. Vitamin E also helps balance hormones and repair skin damage, and helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
- Allergy Relief
High doses of beta carotene, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory capabilities in cayenne pepper can help break up and eliminate mucus caused by congestion. With its high vitamin C content, cayenne also provides protection against the common cold.
Cayenne peppers and ground cayenne can easily be incorporated into your diet. Sliced cayenne peppers can be added to salads for a hint of heat. They can also be sauteed which will reduce their heat and can be added to other sauteed or roasted vegetables. In powder form it can be added to just about anything from eggs to meats, potatoes and marinades or sauces. Cayenne pepper can even be added to water as a regular addition to your diet.
While generally recognized as safe to eat, eating too much at once may cause a stomach ache, particularly if you’re not used to eating spicy food so go slowly in adding them to your diet. If you are taking blood thinners or medication for high blood pressure, be sure to check with your doctor. For most people though, adding cayenne pepper will give a kick to your diet.