Dietitian's Mailbag #6: The Spice is Right

This week's question really brings the heat.  Josh R. writes:

A few months back, I enjoyed reading an EAT Club blog post about the different types of hot peppers.  Are spicy foods like peppers bad for health?

If you think the answer is ‘yes,' raise your right hand. If you think the answer is ‘no,’ raise your left hand. If you don't know the answer, raise both hands and keep them up until you've finished reading this post. Now, I'm guessing that most of you have your right hands up. Peppers are bad for your health, right?

To the delight of our spicy eaters out there, I’m going to actually say ‘no’.

Hold up!  Peppers are practically synonymous with ulcers.  How can they not be bad for you?

Well, spice lovers, here it is.  Doctors and other health professionals used to attribute the cause of ulcers to spicy foods, in part.  While it is true that spice can aggravate ulcers, current evidence indicates that most ulcers are not caused by spicy foods.  Instead, ulcers are actually the result of infections caused by H. pylori bacteria or long-term intake of certain medications.  Hooray for chiles, Sriracha sauce, horseradish, wasabi, and everything else that makes our mouths burn! Minus that hot coffee this morning.

So peppers aren’t bad for us, but are they good for us? They certainly have some hot health benefits. Peppers are rich in:

  • Vitamin C: This nutrient has an important role in immune function, and possesses antioxidative properties.  Vitamin C also helps the body to absorb iron.
  • Potassium: Important for proper nerve and muscle function, potassium also helps to regulate balance of fluids and minerals in the cells of the body.
  • Vitamin B6: Another key nutrient, vitamin B6 plays a significant role in metabolism, particularly converting protein to energy.  During pregnancy and infancy, it is also involved in brain development.
  • Beta carotene: This nutrient is derived from plant sources and is converted to vitamin A once inside the body.  Vitamin A subsequently aids the body in preserving vision, maintaining healthy skin and bones, and fighting infection.
  • Capsaicin: The active component in chili peppers that makes them spicy, capsaicin has been known to decrease appetite and modestly boost metabolism, which has peaked the interest of scientists who research weight loss.  Capsaicin is also associated with stimulating the release of endorphins, brain chemicals linked with reduction of both stress and pain.


Ready to get those endorphins flowing? Then you'll love what's coming up on the EAT Club menu on March 16th: Spicy Challenge Week. In the meantime, look for dishes on the EAT Club menu featuring a spicy tag. Several of these contain spicy peppers that will give you a delicious dose of capsaicin.

Shira healthy pick face stamp
Shira Katz, M.S., R.D. is the EAT Club Staff Dietitian
You can follow Shira on Twitter@SunnySideHealth