The natural world is full of amazing ways to support human health, often in surprising ways. Peppers, for instance, contain 357 per cent more vitamin C than an orange. Green peppers have twice as much vitamin C as citrus fruit. The next time you think about getting more vitamin C from your diet, consider picking up some bell peppers.
What’s the difference between the different colors of bell peppers? Do you have a favorite color? Green bell peppers are the most common form sold; they are fully developed, but not yet ripe. If the green bell peppers are allowed to ripen on the vine, they turn red and develop a sweeter taste.
Why are bell peppers not hot? Bell peppers do not contain the capsaicin because they have a recessive gene that does away with this spice.
What is it about hot peppers that make them hot? Hot peppers have compounds called capsaicinoids that produce burning in the mouth and other physiologic reactions; they have no taste or odor but act directly on the pain receptors in the mouth and throat. So, if you like hot peppers for the taste, it may be more accurate to say you like them for the pain. In fact, one hypothesis says our brains release endorphins when eating these spicy foods. Capsaicin, the most common of the capsaicinoids, is nothing to mess with; a single drop of pure capsaicin diluted in 100,000 drops water can blister the tongue.
Where is the capsaicin in the pepper? If you guessed placenta, you are correct. The placenta is the white rib-like structures on the inside of the pepper and often have seeds close by- so those are hot too.
If hot peppers are so hot, are they harmful for your health? Many people think spicy foods cause ulcers, but this is actually not true. Areas in the world that use more peppers for cooking do not have higher incidence of stomach ulcers compared to less pepper-ridden areas. Capsaicin actually inhibits acid secretion and stimulates mucus secretion, thus helping to prevent and heal ulcers. Further, in one study researchers injected ground jalapeno pepper directly into volunteers’ stomachs and no damage was caused. If you want more effective means to prevent stomach ulcers, try to minimize non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, alcohol, stress, and smoking, AND perhaps eating more hot peppers!
Chris Ballantine is a resident naturopathic doctor at Yellowstone Naturopathic Clinic.