Foods that harm, foods that heal: chillies

A popular ingredient in Southwestern cooking, chillies, or hot peppers, add spice and interest to many foods. As these tips will suggest, the health benefits of consuming these fiery hot delights are many.

Foods that harm, foods that heal: chillies

1. Did you know?

The heat in chillies comes from capsaicinoids, substances that have no odour or flavour themselves but impart their bite by acting directly on the mouth's pain receptors. This results in the teary eyes, runny nose and sweating experienced by most people who indulge in the hotter varieties.

  • For those with a cold or allergies, eating chillies can provide temporary relief from nasal and sinus ­congestion.
  • Capsaicin and other capsaicinoids are concentrated mainly in the white ribs and seeds, which can be removed to produce a milder flavour. Handle chillies with care.
  • Wear thin gloves and wash all utensils well with soap and water after use. Even a tiny amount of capsaicinoids causes severe irritation if it is transferred to the eyes.
  • Be sure to avoid handling contact lenses after chopping chillies.

2. Packed with nutritious properties

Chillies are more nutritious than sweet peppers, and the red varieties generally have a higher nutritional content than the green ones. They are very good sources of antioxidants, especially beta-carotene and vitamin C. Just one raw, red hot pepper contains about 105 milligrams of vitamin C, more than 100 percent of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA). Chillies also contain biofla­­vonoids, plant pigments that some re­search­ers believe may help prevent cancer.

In addition, recent research indicates that capsaicin may act as an anticoagulant, perhaps helping to prevent blood clots that can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Incorporated into creams, capsaicinoids alleviate the burning pain of shingles and can help with the pain of arthritis. They may also reduce the mouth pain associated with chemotherapy. Commercially available poultices for relief of lower back pain also contain capsaicin.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that chillies cause ulcers or digestive problems; however, they may cause rectal irritation.

3. Benefits

  • An excellent source of beta-carotene and vitamin C.
  • May help relieve nasal congestion.
  • May help prevent blood clots that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

4. Drawbacks

  • Require careful handling during preparation to prevent irritation of the skin and eyes.
  • May irritate hemorrhoids in susceptible people.
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