Peppers: Natural Weight-Loss Foods

Peppers don't have that spicy image for nothing. This vegetable is an excellent way to spice up otherwise bland dishes, keeping you interested in your new healthy-eating lifestyle.

Peppers come in a beautiful array of colors and shapes. They add flavor, color, and crunch to many low-calorie dishes.


Health Benefits

All peppers are rich in vitamins A, C, and K, but red peppers are simply bursting with them. Antioxidant vitamins A and C help to prevent cell damage, cancer, and diseases related to aging, and they support immune function. They also reduce inflammation like that found in arthritis and asthma. Vitamin K promotes proper blood clotting, strengthens bones, and helps protect cells from oxidative damage.

Red peppers are a good source of the carotenoid called lycopene, which is earning a reputation for helping to prevent prostate cancer as well as cancer of the bladder, cervix, and pancreas.

Beta-cryptoxanthin, another carotenoid in red peppers, is holding promise for helping to prevent lung cancer related to smoking and secondhand smoke.

Besides being rich in phytonutrients, peppers provide a decent amount of fiber.

Hot peppers' fire comes from capsaicin, which acts on pain receptors, not taste buds, in our mouths. Capsaicin predominates in the white membranes of peppers, imparting its "heat" to seeds as well. The capsaicin in hot peppers has been shown to decrease blood cholesterol and triglycerides, boost immunity, and reduce the risk of stomach ulcers. It used to be thought that hot peppers aggravated ulcers. Instead, they may help kill bacteria in the stomach that can lead to ulcers.

Both hot and sweet peppers contain substances that have been shown to increase the body's heat production and oxygen consumption for about 20 minutes after eating. This is great news; it means your body is burning extra calories, which helps weight loss.


Selection and Storage

Sweet peppers have no capsaicin, hence no heat. They do have a pleasant bite, though. Bell peppers are most common. Green peppers are simply red or yellow peppers that haven't ripened. As they mature, they turn various shades until they become completely red. Once ripe, they are more perishable, so they carry a premium price. But many people favor the milder taste that these varieties provide. Cubanelles, Italian frying peppers, are a bit more intense in flavor and are preferred for roasting or sauteeing.

Hot chili peppers, or chilies (the Mexican word for peppers) are popular worldwide. Ripe red ones are usually hotter than green ones. Still, shape is a better indicator of heat than color. Rule of thumb: the smaller, the hotter.


For example, the poblano, or ancho, chile is fatter than most peppers and only mildly hot. Anaheim, or canned "green chilies," are also fairly mild. Jalapeno is a popular moderately hot pepper. Among the hottest are cayenne, serrano, and tiny, fiery habanero.

With all peppers, look for a glossy sheen and no shriveling, cracks, or soft spots. Bell peppers should feel heavy for their size, indicating fully developed walls.

Store sweet peppers in a plastic bag in your refrigerator's crisper drawer. Green ones stay firm for a week; other colors go soft in three or four days. Hot peppers do better refrigerated in a perforated paper bag.


Preparation and Serving Tips

To cool the fire of hot peppers, cut away the inside white membrane and discard the seeds. Wash hands, utensils, and cutting boards with soap and water after handling them and use gloves to prevent the oils from irritating your hands. Avoid touching your eyes while handling peppers.

Bell peppers are delicious raw. They develop a stronger flavor when cooked; overcooked, they are bitter.


What to do if you swallow more than you can handle? Don't drink water; it spreads the fire around your mouth, making the heat more intolerable. Research from the Taste and Smell Clinic in Washington, D.C., has revealed that a dairy protein, casein, literally washes away capsaicin, quenching the inferno; so milk is your best bet. If you don't have any milk on hand, eat a slice of bread.

When that healthy dish needs a little extra color and punch, add interest to your menu with a wide variety of peppers to fit every taste and heat tolerance while helping you lose weight.

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