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8 October 2012

The Spice of Life: The Health benefits of Chillies

Illustration: ©The Artisan Food Trail / Lisa Childs
We’ve been enjoying a fantastic chilli harvest in the AFT kitchen garden and with the tips that Jo from Edible Ornamentals has given us, the plants are still producing masses of flowers even though the weather has turned down the heat at night.

We eat a fair few chillies so were wondering whether they were doing us any good – well they are part of your five a day, but what else are they good for? There are numerous articles in the press attributing various health benefits associated with the eating of chillies, but just how much of it is based on actual scientific fact?

Well, who better to ask than Priya Tew of Dietitian UK.

AFT: So what are the ‘magic’ ingredients that make chillies good for us?
PT: Chillies contain a range of wonderful micronutrients including vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, manganese, iron and Vitamin A. However it is a lesser known nutrient called Capsaicin which gives chillies some special health benefits. The more pungent the chilli, the more capsaicin it contains. So a Scotch bonnet contains more than a Spanish Pimento.

AFT: We all know having a good curry can clear out the nasal passages and can help if you feel like you have a cold coming. But what else can chillies help with?
PT: Chillies have been shown to aid blood sugar control so could be helpful in the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes. A study showed eating chilli as part of a meal helped lower the amount of insulin needed to bring down blood sugar levels after a meal (1).

AFT: We’ve read that the natural chemicals in chillies can act as a pain reliever and help inflammation, is this true?
PT: Capsaicin can be helpful in inflammation. It works by preventing a neuropeptide known as Substance P from working. Its has been suggested as being useful in arthritis, psoriases and diabetic neuropathy but may have far more uses in other inflammatory diseases too. Applying creams containing capsaicin have been shown to reduce pain although you may experience a slight burning sensation after application! (2).

AFT: There are lots of ‘super-foods’ that can apparently help fight heart disease, so do chillies have any ‘super’ properties?
PT: Capsaicin looks like it has benefits in cardiovascular disease as well. Eating meals containing chopped chillies can decrease the levels of dangerous cholesterol (3).

AFT: Is there any truth in articles we’ve read that chillies could help you shed a few pounds?
PT: There is also evidence to show that eating chilli raises your metabolism after a meal, hence you feel warmer – so you burn more calories, which could help with weight loss.

It certainly sounds like chillies are indeed beneficial to us all and even if you do find some chillies a little too hot at least you know they’re doing you good!

1. Ahuja KD, Robertson IK, Geraghty DP, Ball MJ. Effects of chili consumption on postprandial glucose, insulin, and energy metabolism. Am J Clin Nutr. 84(1):63-9 (2006).
2. Ellis CN, Berberian B, et al. A double-blind evaluation of topical capsaicin in pruritic psoriasis. J Amer Acad Dermatol 29:438-42 (1993).
3. Ahuja KD, Ball MJ. Effects of daily ingestion of chilli on serum lipoprotein oxidation in adult men and women. Br J Nutr. 2006 Aug;96(2):239-42. (2006).

Priya Tew is a registered dietitian who runs her own nutrition consultancy business, Dietitian UK.
As a mum and food lover she is passionate about helping people to discover good quality food and to show them how healthy eating is not just tasty but vitally important.

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