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When Christopher Columbus “discovered” red chili peppers in the New World during the 15th century, the pungent fruit already had a long and distinguished history.
University of Missouri-Columbia and Smithsonian Institute researchers found fossil evidence in 2007 suggesting that people were eating chili peppers as long as 6,000 years ago, making chili peppers one of the oldest domesticated food sources in the Americas. As Columbus found, chili peppers were already being used as remedies for diarrhea, cramps, flatulence, seasickness, malarial fevers and blood clotting reduction.
In addition to pleasing ancient and modern palates, chili peppers are a good source of vitamins A, C and E, rich in folic acid and potassium, low in calories and sodium, and contain no carbohydrates, according to Chemical & Engineering News Magazine.
Given its history, it’s easy to understand why modern researchers are fired up about this ancient food's health benefits. While the jury is still out—to date, researchers have only scratched the surface — there seems to be good news associated with eating chili peppers or chili-pepper-based sauces for your overall health.
- Eating chili peppers may help stimulate weight loss and fight fat buildup by triggering certain beneficial protein changes in the body. Dr. Jong Won Yun and colleagues at Daegu University in Korea found in laboratory tests that capsaicin, the stuff that gives chili peppers their kick, may help fight obesity by decreasing calorie intake, shrinking fat tissue, and lowering fat levels in the blood. However, it is still unknown exactly how capsaicin triggers such benefits.
- Capsaicin also has cancer-fighting properties that prevent or slows the growth of human pancreatic cancer tumors implanted in mice. Sanjay K. Srivastava, Ph.D., lead investigator and assistant professor of pharmacology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, found capsaicin to be a potent anticancer agent that caused pancreatic cancer cells to become suicidal through a process called apoptosis.