Many of us grew up believing that hot and spicy foods, like chili peppers, can upset your gastrointestinal (GI) tract and even cause peptic ulcers. But in recent years, research shows that was yet another medical myth.
In fact, study after study illustrates that greater consumption of hot chili peppers is associated with substantial health benefits—including a longer lifespan.
And now, an eight-year study of nearly 23,000 Italian men and women found that those who ate chili peppers at least four times a week were 23 percent less likely to die prematurely than people who didn’t eat any.
Plus, the chili pepper eaters had a whopping 40 percent lower risk of death from heart attacks.1
One dietitian who analyzed the study said this conclusion may simply show that higher consumption of peppers is associated with following a generally healthier diet.2 And while that’s pure speculation, it may be partly true.
But it doesn’t appear to take into account all of the science regarding the health benefits of capsaicin, a compound found in chili peppers. In fact, research suggests that capsaicin is a potent phytomedicine.
Capsaicin is what turns up the heat in chili peppers. It’s also a powerful antioxidant. So it makes sense that it can help prevent cardiovascular disease and other chronic, deadly health conditions.
The easy way to spice up your diet
Some people don’t like the heat of chili peppers or worry they’ll have difficulty digesting them.
But there are varying degrees of heat in chili peppers—all of which contain healthy capsaicin. So if you want a milder taste sensation, check out the scale on this page and choose a pepper low in Scoville units (a measure of heat, or spiciness).
And remember, you can’t tell how spicy a pepper is by its appearance. The color is not primarily an indicator of the heat level, but rather a sign of maturity of the pepper. As peppers grow, more carotenoid pigments accumulate and create their rainbow hues. So, hot chili peppers can be red, green, yellow, or orange.
Another factor to consider is that some pepper skins contain natural waxes, which can be difficult for certain people to digest. Remove the skins and roast the pepper if this is an issue for you.
No matter which type of chili pepper you choose, you have many flavorful cooking options. Chili peppers are staples in a variety of Italian, Mexican, and Asian dishes. Or you can be like my Uncle Mike, who liked to go out into his garden, pick a fresh chili pepper, and shred it right onto his pasta. Mangia!
Your chili pepper heat index guide
Back in 1912, pharmacist Wilbur Scoville developed the Scoville Heat Unit (SHU) to measure a chili pepper’s spiciness.
A SHU of 80,000 or more is considered very hot. Moderate pungency is between 3,000 and 25,000 SHU, and mild pungency is 700 to 3,000 SHU.
Here’s how some popular chili peppers rank on the Scoville Scale.3
- Carolina reaper: 2.2 million SHU
- Bhut jolokia, or “ghost pepper”: 1 million SHU
- Habanero: 350,000 SHU
- Thai: 100,000 SHU
- Cayenne: 50,000 SHU
- Serrano: 25,000 SHU
- Chipotle: 10,000 SHU
- Jalapeño: 10,000 SHU
- Anaheim: 2,500 SHU
- Poblano: 2,000 SHU
- Banana pepper: 500 SHU
- Pepperoncini: 500 SHU
1“Chili Pepper Consumption and Cardiovascular Mortality.” Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Volume 74, Issue 25, 24 December 2019, Pages 3150-3152.