It’s got a peculiar taste. You just take a bite and get that hot taste. Whereas some people love it, others just hate it. That’s what pepper is like. Of course not all of them will leave your tongue burning, but there’s no doubt pepper carries this stigma.

The thing is that, if you eat it the right way and when properly prepared, it can be great for your health (and to lose that little extra weight on your waist).

“Several studies have been pointing out that pepper, whether it’s black or red, contains important pharmacological qualities”. Who tells me that is Thaís Barca de Moraes, a sports and clinical nutritionist.

She adds that such studies have shown that capsaicin and piperine (substances that can be found in pepper) promote several biological and physiological activities, including antioxidant functions, cancer prevention, anti inflammatory functions, increase of the basal metabolism and body fat maintenance.

And that’s not all. It also offers analgesic and antibacterial effect, relieves allergic rhinitis, prevents rheumatoid arthritis, high cholesterol levels, contributes to endorphin release (improves your mood), clears blood vessels and helps control blood sugar levels. “Therefore, consuming pepper can contribute to the prevention and treatment of some diseases”, concludes Larissa Leandro da Cruz, a nutritionist.

Great source of vitamins

chili-peppersThat’s what I said, my friend. Not everyone knows that peppers are full of vitamins. Because they’re a source of vitamin A, they can contribute to better immunity, improve your taste, growth and sight. All that because vitamin A is related to many physiological processes that have something to do with cell proliferation and differentiation.

“Vitamin C, also contained in pepper, is a great antioxidant. It’s also a predecessor of collagen, a protein sought after by both men and women, once it’s connected with skin health and appearance. Plus, vitamin C helps with the absorption of iron present in plant products”, explains Bruna Lyrio, a nutritionist at Clínica Tostes, in Rio de Janeiro.

Vitamin B6, in turn, acts as a coenzyme in the synthesis of amino acids and is related to the ingestion of proteins (which is great if you’re seeking hypertrophy). Just watch out so you don’t ingest the pepper alone. You should include other foods in your meal plan as well (also source of these and other vitamins) in order to achieve their recommended daily amount.

The minerals

Did you think that was all? Well, on the contrary actually! We’ve got a long way to go. You won’t believe it. Now we’ll talk about some minerals: Magnesium, potassium and iron. Magnesium is a mineral that is involved in the activation of a series of enzymes.

“It’s essential for the formation of serotonin (improves your mood, reduces anxiety, irritability, nervousness and hyperactivity) and it’s very important to the health of your bones, muscle contraction, the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and migraines”, Larissa points.

Potassium is crucial to balance blood acidity. It alters neural transmission, muscle contraction and vascular tone. When there’s a deficiency of potassium, you’ll notice muscular weakness, cramps, fatigue, cardiac changes and mental apathy.

The iron is essential for the maintenance of the red globules. Together, these minerals in the organism also contribute to reducing the risks of cramps (associated with proper water consumption)”, Thaís adds.

When it comes to weight loss

We’ve got to another quite interesting point here: Pepper can contribute to weight loss. According to Camila Rodrigues, a nutritionist at Acqua Brasil Spa, in Rio de Janeiro, capsaicin is responsible for it all and it can also boost your metabolism, making the process of burning fat easier.

What happens is that it raises the temperature in our organism (thermogenesis) and, in order to dissipate it, the organism needs to burn more calories. It’s estimated that each gram of pepper makes your body burn around 45 calories.

Plus, pepper contributes to satiation. “It stimulates the release of noradrenaline and adrenaline in the nervous system, which contribute to the reduction of appetite. And we must not forget that the condiment activates cholecystokinin, which is also related to satiation”, points Thaís Moraes.

Stronger heart and super immunity

coracao forteWell, I guess we can say pepper is really mighty. Adding it to several recipes (when they match, of course) also helps with the reduction of LDL choleterol levels, the “bad cholesterol” and can reduce clots in the blood, since they’re vasodilator. Therefore, it can reduce the risks of hypertension, heart attack and other cardiovascular diseases”, points Larissa da Cruz.

This is our heart getting even stronger so that we can keep working out worry-free. However, in order to juggle exercises and work, our immunity has to be ready in case any kind of problem should come up (drop in temperature, viruses, bacteria in the air, etc).

Well, who would think pepper would help us here too? That’s impressing! Thanks to vitamins we have mentioned before! I guess it won’t hurt to talk about them one more time. Vitamin A – known for its anti inflammatory characteristics, which help with the maintenance of the mucus, strengthening the immune system – and vitamin B6, which increases immunity in general.

“Consuming pepper also stimulates mucus secretion, preventing breathing allergies, like rhinitis and sinusitis. As you must know, pepper is also a source of vitamin C, which increases the production of defense cells, which have a direct effect on bacteria and viruses, increasing, this way, its resistance to infections”, Thaís clarifies.

Diabetes and prostate cancer

diabetesPepper is effective even against dangerous diseases, fighting for our health. There are studies that prove that the nutritional properties of capsaicin can stimulate our digestion and speed up glucose absorption, which can contribute a lot to the treatment of diabetes.

What’s more, there’s a study published in the Cancer Research Magazine that shows that tumors located in the prostate that have been treated with the substance were 5 times smaller than non-treated tumors.

“The conclusion is that capsaicin reduces the production of PSA, a protein produced in large amounts by prostate tumors. Besides, the substance also reduces the growth of tumors related to testosterone”, explains Andréa Romero, a professor of Nutrition at Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie, in São Paulo.

She explains that it is necessary to ingest around three to eight fresh red peppers three times a week to achieve the results showed by the study. “The researchers worked with the extract of a Mexican pepper that contains a higher amount of capsaicin, known as habañero”, she goes on. I’ve taken it down for my next run to the supermarket.

Hotness Scale

Yes, dear reader. Did you think I wouldn’t say a word about the hottest peppers? This is important for you to pick the best pepper according to your taste. Thaís Moraes tells me that the “Scoville Scale” is used to measure the degree or level of hotness and pungency of peppers.

Take a look:

Scale Sort of pepper
0 Little Beak Pepper (Brazilian kind)
100 – 500 Spicy Bellpepper
500 – 1000 Anaheim Pepper
600 – 800 Tabasco Sauce
1,000 – 1,500 Pobiano
1,500 – 2,500 Rocotilo
2,500 – 8,000 Jalapeño
5,000 – 10,000 Wax pepper
7,000 – 8,000 Habañero tabasco
10,000 – 23,000 Serrano
30,000 – 50,000 Cayenne Pepper
50,000 – 100,000 Malagueta and Thai pepper
100,000 – 200,000 Jamaica Pepper
100,000 – 350,000 Chile Habañero
350,000 – 577,000 Habañero (Red savina)
876,000 – 970,000 Dosert Naga
855,000 – 1,041,427 Naga jolokia

 

As for the right amount of pepper (apart from the prostate cancer issue), all the professionals state that there’s no study on the matter, and that that will vary from person to person. You just shouldn’t exceed 3 to 4 times a day.

And that’s important because, in case you get carried away, other than the burning sensation, you could worsen gastritis, ulcers or other gastric diseases. “In case of excessive ingestion, the best way to relieve the burning sensation is eating a piece of bread”, André Romero instructs me.

Spicy Recipes

Well, now it’s time to put all you’ve learned into practice. But how? With the recipes I’ve picked (with the help of the nutritionists, of course). Check it out!

Turbocharged Olive Oil

Ingredients:

1 teacup extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves of garlic chopped

1 tsp lemon juice

Peppers of your choosing.

Directions:

Remove the seeds and stalks of the pepper. Braise the garlic in olive oil until slightly brown. Place the peppers in a jar, leaving 2 centimeters free. Heat 1 teacup of olive oil. Stick a spoon handle in the middle of the peppers opening a hole. Slowly pour the olive oil so it penetrates well. Top the jar up with olive oil until there’s 0.5cm free on the top. Close it tight. Let it cool. Keep it refrigerated.

 

Vietnamese Roll

Servings: 12 rolls

Caloric value per serving: 185 Kcal

Ingredients:

12 circles of rice dough (for eggroll)

10 gray shrimps (cleaned)

100g of pork fillet cut into thin strips

1 japanese cucumber grated (finely grated)

½ cup of bean sprouts

100g rice thin spaghetti

1 average carrot grated (finely grated)

1 pepper (dedo de moça, a Brazilian kind of pepper) chopped

½ red onion chopped

1 clove of garlic chopped

Fresh basil chopped (to taste)

Fresh mint chopped (to taste)

2 tbsp oil

1 tbsp brown sugar

2 tbsp soy sauce

Directions:

In a pan, heat the oil and braise the garlic and the onion. Add the pork meat and cook it for around 3 minutes. Add the cucumber, the carrot, the spaghetti and the bean sprouts. Cook it for 3 more minutes. Add the shrimps and stir all the ingredients together on high heat until the shrimps are cooked. Add the pepper, the soy sauce, the brown sugar and the chopped herbs. Add salt, if needed. Mix it well and let it cool.

 

Sauce

Ingredients:

4 lemons squeezed

1 tbsp ginger chopped

2 peppers (dedo de moça, a Brazilian kind of pepper) chopped

1 tbsp oyster sauce

1 tbsp fermented fish sauce

2 tbsp sugar

Toasted peanuts: Around 100g

Water (if necessary)

Directions:

In a saucepan, mix the sugar, the lemon juice, the oyster sauce, the fish sauce, the ginger and the chopped pepper. Cook it for around 5 minutes. Add water, if necessary. Let it cool. Add the chopped peanuts.

 

Assembling

Moisten the roll dough, one by one, in hot water (quickly so it doesn’t break). Take it out of the water and place it on a clean cloth. Add the filling and close by folding the tips inwards so the roll doesn’t break, pressing it tight. Serve it with the sauce.

 

Malagueta sauce pasta

Servings: 4 portions

Caloric value per serving: 261.9kcal

Ingredients:

400g penne or fusilli pasta

2 cloves of garlic crushed

50g parmesan cheese grated

2 malagueta peppers

400g peeled seeded tomatoes diced

3 tbsp parlsey chopped

1 tbsp oilive oil

Directions:

In a pan, heat the oil and braise the two cloves of crushed garlic. Add the malagueta pepper chopped (or powder). Add the tomatoes and cook them for 5 minutes, ultil they’re tender. Check the salt. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling water and salt. Drain it and mix it with the sauce in the pan straight away. Add the chopped parsley and stir it for 1 more minute. Sprinkle it with the grated parmesan cheese and serve.

It’s good for you

Have you made up your mind? If I were you, I’d try them all. This way, you can add pepper to your meals and improve your health. You have my word!


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