Thursday, March 24, 2011

Chili peppers

Enjoy the spicy side of the rainbow with a healthy diet

I recently accepted a Man vs. Food Challenge while stationed in San Antonio, Texas. I like spicy, and hey, the person on TV did it. How bad can it be? As I signed my waiver to order the Four Horseman Burger, I thought, how hot could the ghost pepper be? The hamburger was topped with jalapeño, serrano, ghost peppers and covered in a Habanero sauce. As I waited for it, I talked myself up for this burger to be “no big deal”. When it was delivered, the waiter wished me good luck. As I took my first bite, I told myself it was not that hot. Being stubborn, I decided to take another bite. Big mistake. Let the burn begin!

As I sat in a state of panic, drinking anything in site, eyes watering, nose running, tongue burning, not knowing what to do with myself, my co-worker across the table who did not try the burger was laughing, taking pictures and enjoying lunch. I, on the other hand, could not stay in one place. I did not know what to do to make it stop burning. I was the entertainment for many while they peacefully ate their lunch. I had two small bites of the hottest thing I have ever had in my life and was not hungry until after dinner later that night.

Unlike the extreme ghost pepper, other chilies can be eaten daily. In fact, eating a variety of vegetables is one way to help lose weight. All foods give the body different types of nutrients. They all work together to give the body what it needs to function. Chili peppers contain fiber, vitamin C and vitamin A. The spicy chemical is also significant. Recent research has suggested that the spiciness may help with weight loss.

Although technically a fruit, peppers are classified as a vegetable due to their nutrient and low sugar content. They all come from the Capsicum family but differ in their appearance. Think of yellow bell peppers, small red chilies and all the varieties in between. The overall anatomy of these peppers is similar: a stem on the top and a seeded center covered by a colorful skin. A less known part is the placenta, which is the flesh colored portion inside the pepper. It attaches the seeds to the stem in the center of the fruit. The placenta is the hottest part of the pepper. The common belief that the seeds are the hot culprit is incorrect. The placenta is where capsaicin (kap-SAY-ih-sin) is produced. Capsaicin is a healthy natural chemical. It is very important to the possible effects of pepper-influenced weight loss.

If you eat peppers, chances are you are eating capsaicin. The chemical is common among the whole pepper family. This is why the mixture of various types of peppers is considered one family. Capsaicin is responsible for the unique spiciness you taste. The higher the capsaicin content in the food, the spicier it will be.

Capsicum is the reason why some people have side effects to chilies. A burning mouth, running nose, watering eyes, tingling of the tongue and flushing of the face are all common side effects. Capsaicin is the key that can unlock pain signals. For this reason, the “heat” factor affects everyone differently. Some people can eat a whole Habanero pepper with little side effects. Others cannot lick a pepper without running for milk.

A heat scale measures the amount of capsaicin in peppers. This can also be interpreted as the “heat” it gives to the body. Capsaicin is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHUs). A serrano pepper, for example, is rated at 8,000 SHUs. Pure capsaicin is rated at 15,000,000 SHUs. Habanero chilies are considered very hot at 200,000 SHUs, which is only one-tenth the heat of pure capsaicin. Ghost chilies, which I recommend eating only with supervision (or a camera), are one of the hottest at 800,000 SHUs.

As stated before, capsaicin may help with weight loss efforts. Just imagine how a really, really, hot pepper makes your mouth feel. Instantly you panic. In order to decrease the burning, you look for any beverage. FYI: milk does the trick. Your body and mind essentially go into a panic-stricken state. All you can think about is how hot that last bite was.

Capsaicin is associated with causing a thermogenic (production of heat) effect on the body. †This heat production may cause the body to work harder. The body has a set temperature that it likes to maintain. If it is elevated, the body works harder. If the body works harder, more calories are burned. †Burning more calories overtime, results in weight loss. Additionally, this response has been shown to decrease appetite and increase fullness. Feeling fuller faster can cause an overall decrease in calories consumed. These are all ways to achieve weight loss.

Recent research is using capsaicin as a possible weight loss aid. Unfortunately, most studies use high doses that require a pill to be purchased. Although there are capsaicin diet pills available, these pills do not give the fiber, vitamins and satiety of eating that the real peppers give.

There are ongoing studies looking at capsaicin effects on weight loss. Increasing calories burned in the body can result in weight loss. Slightly reducing food intake is another healthy ways to lose weight. One downside to eating capsaicin is the spiciness. Some people do not favor the spicy sensation. It is important to know your spicy threshold. It is an acquired taste. Eating spicy peppers often helps build a tolerance to capsaicin. This makes it easier to eat peppers more frequently.

There are no known risks of eating peppers daily (besides a possible spicy trip to the †beverage station). Peppers, spicy or non-spicy, can be enjoyed by all, raw or cooked. And, you may benefit from the capsaicin chemicals. The peppers are also full of healthy nutrients. This can help create a low calorie, very colorful meal or snack. If weight loss is what you are after, consider a healthy diet with some added spice.