Red Hot Chillies - Alluring Health Benefits

By Dr Harold Gunatillake - Health Writer

The red hot narrow medium sized chilli, more than 200 varieties coloured anything from yellow to green to red to black, are hot to varying degree, especially when they turn red, they would be mouth blistering for some. In most Chinese restaurants these cut chillies are soaked in soy sauce with added lemon juice and little sugar. It is the greatest stimulant appetizer for Chinese food and the treat is most satisfying. So, let us not confuse the many varieties of chillies and peppers, because there is a difference.

Chillie was originally grown in Central America, and has been part of the human diet since at least 7500 BC. Explorer Christopher Columbus so stimulated with them he took a whole heap to Spain in the 15th century and the cultivation spread rapidly in European countries, including Asia and Africa.

Chilli is a fruit pod from the plant belonging to the nightshade family (Solanaceae), within the genius capsicum. Other members of the capsicum Solanaceae family are tomatoes, aubergines and potatoes

The hottest are the smallest. In Sri Lanka they are called,"Kochchi Miris".There is an unkind saying that smaller the fellow bigger the rascal, probably comparing to small chillies.
The hotness if chilli is measured in "Scoville heat units" (SHU). On the Scoville scale, a sweet bell pepper scores 0. Our native Kochchi miris around 2,500-4,000 units. The Mexican habaneros may have up to 5,000 units.

The active ingredient in these chillies is an alkaloid compound called capsaicin, most of which is found in the seeds and the veins. When the seeds are removed the green skin is not that hot. So, if you prefer your chilli to be mild, remove the seeds and add to your curry. Wash your hands after handling chillies, otherwise the burn can linger. Early laboratory studies on experimental mammals have shown that capsaicin has anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic, analgesic and anti-diabetic properties. It is observed that chillies lower your blood LDL cholesterol, especially among obese subjects.

Chillies have seven times the vitamin C content than oranges. It has many therapeutic benefits. It fights congestion of your sinuses and nostril passages. In short it is a de-congestant. They aid digestion, especially with heavy meals as rice and curry. They help migraine headaches, joint pains (arthralgia) and nerve pain. There are over the counter sprays the main ingredient being capsaicin which gives instant temporary relief for muscle and joint pains, and strains. Some use them for chronic backpains. Capsaicin is used in ointment preparations, rubs and tinctures for astringent, counter-irritant and analgesic properties.

t is a good source of antioxidants, vitamin A and E, beta carotene, folic acid, lutein, zea-xanthin, and cryptoxanthin.

Chillies contain a good amount of minerals like potassium, manganese, iron and magnesium. Potassium helps controlling heart rate, and blood pressure. Chillies also contain vitamin B complex, such as niacin, pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), riboflavin and thiamine (Vitamin B-1)

Chilli peppers have high levels of vitamins and minerals. 100 g provides (in % of recommended daily allowance):
240% of vitamin-C (Ascorbic acid),
39% of vitamin B-6 (Pyridoxine),
32% of vitamin A,
13% of iron,
14% of copper,
7% of potassium,
No cholesterol.
Eating chillies increases your metabolic activities in the body. They make your internal machines work more efficiently and hence recommended for weight loss.

Studies have being done and found it that they may play a role in treating lung and prostate cancer and leukaemia.

Do not eat too much of chillies like any other food. They irritate and may burn your inner lining of the mouth.

Sometimes, you will have burning sensation on passing urine. Rarely could you get ureteric colics mimicking renal stones when being passed through the ureters.

When you eat chillies with food, always keep a glass of milk or yogurt with you. Cucumber raita can help to soothe the bite. Casein in milk takes the capsaicin away from nerve-receptor sites to lessen the burning sensation in the mouth, including the tongue.

Bell peppers
These are available in the markets right through the year. They are not cheap for some reason. Red and yellows are dearer than the greens. When you purchase, avoid those with spots or those spoiled tips and inflicted by moulds.

At home, they should be stored in the fridge in plastic bags to keep them fresh for weeks. Chillies and bell peppers have to be washed thoroughly to remove any fungicides, and and soil.

A cousin of capsaicin, Dihydrocapsaite (DCT) is found in some sweet chili peppers, sometimes referred to as CH-19 peppers this alkaloid compound is supposed to burn calories when taken with a high protein diet. Piperine another alkaloid is found in dried black peppers. It is supposed to be new fat cells being formed in the body.

Those who suffer from GERD (gastro-oesophageal reflux) should take precaution in eating hot chillies per se or in curries.

Coconut cream and milk when added into such curries may lessen the irritation in the stomach and ease the reflux. Certain chemical compounds like aflatoxins found in spoiled chillies may cause stomach, liver and colon cancers. This is not confirmed.

So, add chillies and peppers to your daily food and enjoy the many health benefits they provide.

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