If you know anyone unfortunate enough to have developed a stomach ulcer or have seen movies with characters dealing with them, the first thing that usually comes to mind is someone chugging milk or something like Pepto Bismol. We immediately feel bad for them because they are going to be put on some sort of bland, tasteless diet because everyone knows that spicy food causes and irritates ulcers, right? Wrong! Turns out that that really isn’t the case at all. Those ulcers are caused by stress, alcohol, smoking, too many pain medications and a list of other things, but not spicy food. The surprising truth is that the capsaicin in jalapeño and other types of peppers that adds the hot, spicy flavor to so many of our favorite foods may actually protect us from developing those ulcers!
Surprised? You’re in good company. Most people know how much they love the spicy taste but have no clue about the health benefits of jalapeño peppers.
Jalapeños originate from Mexico and that is still where the vast majority of them are grown, although they are cultivated in the southwestern part of the U.S., mostly in, California, New Mexico and Texas. The spicy heat of peppers that comes from their level of capsaicin actually has its own scale, named after the man who invented it, Wilbur L. Scoville. The Scoville Scale measures the “hotness” of peppers, from the sweet bell pepper, with no heat at all, to the super-hot Dragon’s Breath, which knocked the Red Savina habanero off the top spot and has more heat than you even want to think about. The popular poblano is rated mild and the jalapeño is a step up to medium.
More to the Jalapeño Than Spicy Taste
Jalapeño peppers come in red and green, with the majority picked and eaten when they are still green. The redder the pepper, the higher the concentration of capsaicin. This means more heat, and it also means more health benefits. Besides capsaicin, jalapeños contain vitamins C, B6, A and K, as well as folate and manganese.
You are not likely to hear Weight Watchers recommending that you frequent your local Mexican restaurant, but there are studies that suggest that spicy peppers, like jalapeños, help with weight loss. It is believed that they boost the metabolism, which, in turn, accelerates the body’s fat burning process. Capsaicin has been sold as a supplement in capsule form, but reaping the benefits while indulging in hot sauce would seem to be far more fun!
Besides their ability to protect against ulcers by helping to minimize the inflammation in the stomach caused by the overuse of alcohol and pain relievers, jalapeños have traditionally been used to counteract the bacteria that causes food poisoning. More recently, research is being done investigating the compounds in these spicy peppers that are believed to have the potential to aid in the prevention of common but serious infections, like strep throat and STDs (sexually transmitted diseases).
The capsaicin in jalapeños has been shown to stabilize the spike in blood sugar levels after eating, which has significant implications for diabetics. There have also been promising studies done on animals that indicate this powerful substance can lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Without human testing it is too early to speculate on what this may mean for improving heart health, but it is certainly promising.
It’s always been said that good things come in small packages. Whether we are talking about delicious food or health benefits, it would seem that this is especially true of the little jalapeño pepper!