There has never been an easier way to make food more interesting than with pepper, for example, hot sauce. And, it has nutrition benefits because capsaicin provides the heat for hot sauce.
Pepper, locally known as ‘urusenda’, is widely used in many cuisines as a spice to add heat to dishes. However, it is more than just a spice.
Health experts say adding pepper, hot sauces or hot powders to food is beneficial as they are packed with numerous health benefits.
Joseph Uwiragiye, Head of Nutrition Department at University Teaching Hospital of Kigali (CHUK), says peppers are a mega source of vitamin C.
In fact, he says, raw bell peppers provide more vitamin C than any other food. They also contain vitamin A which has several important functions that include; helping your body’s natural defence against illness and infection (the immune system) work properly and helping vision in dim light.
They also contain lutein, an antioxidant that protects eyes from macular degeneration.
Emmy Ntamanga, a Kigali-based nutrition consultant, says peppers are popular for their ability to improve the taste of any meal with their flavour.
However, he says, it’s important to note that they contain vitamin K1, also known as phylloquinone. Vitamin K1 is essential for blood clotting and healthy bones and kidneys.
He notes that vitamin K1 plays an essential role in incorporating calcium phosphate into bones and is subsequently important for regular bone growth.
It also plays a crucial role in blood clotting, since it activates blood clotting and coagulation-inhibiting factors.
Ntamanga says hot peppers are packed with beta carotene and antioxidants that support the immune system and aid in fighting off colds and the flu.
Hot pepper contains potassium; he says this is an essential dietary mineral that serves a variety of functions, including reducing one’s risk of heart disease when consumed in adequate amounts.
Potassium also helps regulate fluid balance, muscle contractions, and nerve signals.
What’s more, Ntamanga says, a high-potassium diet may help reduce blood pressure and water retention, protect against stroke and prevent osteoporosis and kidney stones.
Apart from that, hot peppers contain copper, which lacks in some processed foods. It is an essential trace element, important for strong bones and healthy neurons, according to Ntamanga.
Researchers have shown that capsaicin found in hot peppers can improve heart health, prevent diabetes, and prevent cancer among other benefits.
The studies have also proved that hot peppers can lower blood pressure and make you feel less hungry.
Uwiragiye says the capsaicin in peppers acts as an anti-irritant. He notes that research has revealed that peppers are beneficial to ulcers.
For example, he says, pepper powder provides trace amounts of anti-oxidants and other chemicals to aid digestive issues such as an upset stomach, reducing intestinal gas, curing diarrhoea, and acting as a natural remedy for cramps.
“It does this by reducing the acidity in the digestive tract that causes ulcers. It also helps produce saliva and stimulates gastric juices aiding digestion,” he says.
Pepper powder also aids the circulatory system and prevents heart disease by lowering blood serum cholesterol and reduces lipid deposits, and therefore, reverses excessive blood clotting. It also dilates the blood vessels to aid in blood flow.
Studies have shown that spicy pepper increases metabolic rate by generating the thermogenic processes in our body that generates heat.
That process utilises energy, and thereby, burns additional calories. In addition, Uwiragiye says if hot peppers are consumed during breakfast, the appetite is suppressed the rest of the day which ultimately helps in weight loss.
It may even alter proteins in the body to combat fat accumulation.
Capsaicin also has been studied as a holistic method for weight loss. It will selectively destroy nerve fibres that send messages from the stomach to the brain.
Research has found that nasal sprays containing capsaicin reduce congestion. Increased body temperature from the ingestion of hot peppers triggers the immune system into action in fighting the norovirus (cold), flu viruses.
Due to the anti-inflammatory benefits of capsaicin, hot peppers can help prevent allergies and symptoms from allergies, according to studies.