Women’s Health Magazine
Staying away from processed foods can have a positive effect on more than just your physical well-being.
Chile Peppers, These fruits are made spicy by the fat-soluble molecule called capsaicin. This molecule is absorbed by fat. If you add chili powder to oil and vinegar, the fat in the oil absorbs all of the capsaicin. It’s why a mouthful of guacamole or milk will cool down a burning mouth, while water or beer is unable to put out the fire.
Neuroscientists recently found that the brain is loaded with receptors for capsaicin, which is currently being investigated for its ability to regulate inflammation by influencing the expression of DNA. We also know that our brains respond to the heat of capsaicin by releasing endorphins, natural compounds that are related to morphine and have a calming effect. Capsaicin destroys carcinogens in our food like dimethyl nitrosamine, a preservative in cured meats, and vinyl carbamate, a cancer-causing agent in many pesticides. And capsaicin has been shown to protect the brain during liver failure.
The heat in peppers is measured on the Scoville scale, and the hotter the pepper, the more of this cancer fighter and pain reducer. A habanero clocks in at 350,000 Scoville units, a jalapeño has 8,000, and the lowly old bell pepper has none at all. It also routinely ends up on the list of the “dirty dozen” of fruits and vegetables compiled by the Environmental Working Group. Capsaicin, like a lot of nutrients in fruit, is a plant’s natural defense against pests, and because the bell pepper doesn’t contain this spice, the plants are heavily sprayed by growers and are among the most pesticide-contaminated fruits in the grocery store.
But the fact that humans are the only mammals that enjoy the burning sensation of capsaicin is another sign of plants’ brilliant design, because we’ve spread these species to all corners of the earth. The receptor for capsaicin in the human brain has led to a second theory about why we like burning our mouths with this compound. When we eat spicy foods, we release the same endorphins as when we exercise. Just like runners report a post-workout high, chile-eaters talk about a soothing, euphoric response to eating extremely spicy food.
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Filed Under: Health Benefits