Super foods, the ultimate health foods – the benefits of Chillies

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Thursday, 26 February 2009.

Super foods, the ultimate health foods – the benefits of Chillies

Chillies pack a mighty punch in nutrition terms. They have a strong concentration of vitamin C, around two to three times greater than citrus fruit, and are high in fibre, minerals like potassium and some of the B vitamins.

But as the quantities of chilli consumed are fairly small, their overall contribution ends up being minor (although for chilli afficionados, it may be significant).

Red chillies and beta-carotene

Red chillies, a more mature stage of ripeness than green, offer plenty of beta-carotene, a prominent antioxidant and precursor to vitamin A. Dried chillies have less vitamin C than fresh or bottled, but are still rich in beta-carotene, other related carotenoids and minerals.

Raise your metabolic rate - great for weight loss

Chillies are known to raise the metabolic rate, one of the reasons why a curry often warms you up. This has been promoted as an advantage to dieters, as a body with a ‘super-speed engine' burns fuel faster. In any case, chilli and chilli sauces can certainly pep up an otherwise bland diet meal.

Oral irritants

Chillies are one of a number of oral irritants in our diet. Pepper, ginger, mustard and horseradish (think of wasabi) fall into the same category, but chilli is the strongest and most widely consumed.

Chillies around the globe

Around 25 per cent of the world's people eat chilli daily in many and varied ways ranging from harissa paste in Morocco, tomato-lime salsas in Mexico, fiery jungle curries in Thailand to bottled chilli sauce, a condiment which can give oomph to a stir-fry or noodle soup.

Other benefits

Chilli lovers swear that chillies stimulate the secretion of saliva and gastric juices and act as a digestive aid. If used in large enough quantities, they appear to have anti-bacterial qualities which is valued in hot climates where refrigeration is often absent. Ointments and lotions with capsaicin have also had success as an external remedy for nerve pain and itching. Capsaicin blocks substance P which is part of the body's pain-and-inflammation chemistry.

Nutrition stats

Per serve:

One hot thin red chilli (8cm long, weighing 20g) supplies: trace of protein, trace of fat, 1g sugars, 0 starch, trace of dietary fibre and 23 kilojoules (5 calories).

Per 100g hot thin chillies:

1 per cent protein, trace of fat, 4 per cent sugars, trace of starch, 2 per cent dietary fibre and 115 kilojoules (27 calories).

Easy ways to enjoy more chillies

  • For an Asian meal, have fresh chopped chillies on the table so people can add as much or little as they like
  • Pour sweet chilli sauce over a slab of ricotta or light cream cheese and serve as a dip with raw vegetables.

How to get rid of the burn

Eat yoghurt or milk like the Indian drink lassi (they coat the mouth with a layer of fat, so dilute the chilli). Capsaicin is fat-soluble so drinking water or sucking on ice doesn't help as it doesn't dissolve away the irritant.