Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
1 May

Sergeant Pepper

This week’s Tuesday 10 is in response to junior apple Tricia, who emailed me yesterday with the following question:

“Mark, I have heard that spicy foods can prevent cancer. Is this true? Does this mean things like salsa, or curries? And what about heartburn?”

Great questions, Trish! “Spicy foods” do indeed help prevent cancer. I’m not making that up. (For the research-hungry, check out these must-reads: this study, this site, this article and this blogger’s take).

“Spices” – specifically, we’re talking about capsicum plants like chili peppers – also have important cardiovascular benefits. Junior Apple Steve saw his heart rate and blood pressure drop after he switched from using black pepper to cayenne pepper. (I have it on good authority he now liberally doses all his meals with some heat.) Peppers are loaded to the gills with a variety of powerful antioxidants that go beyond cancer prevention. If they had gills.

Peppery foods carry the reputation of being irritating to the digestive tract, although in truth peppers have healing properties. Many of the spicy foods that are infamous for causing heartburn are actually irritating because of the huge amounts of processed (fried or trans) fat. Trans fat, remember, is a real irritant to the system because it is full of oxidizing free radicals. Throw spice into the mix and no wonder it’s a recipe for heartburn and stomach discomfort. Spice just adds insult to injury if you’re chowing on those fried, high-calorie foods.

Some healthy heat, when coupled with vegetables and sparing amounts of good fats from things like olive oil or nuts, is surprisingly enjoyable for even the most sensitive bellies. And there are plenty of healthy peppers that aren’t spicy at all.

There are dozens of varieties of peppers, and many are not only mild, but sweet. Here are ten great “hots” that will do your body good:

10. Curry

Red, yellow, green, hot, medium, mild – just eat it. Curried vegetables and lean meats are really, really good, and curcumin-containing curry helps prevent cancer. You can buy ready-made curry sauces, but make sure you’re getting a healthy one that isn’t full of mostly sugar and oil. I suggest buying fresh, loose yellow curry powder (which contains turmeric, the important ingredient) and making your own sauce at home. A popular Western alternative: paprika.

curry

This is Barron’s Flickr Photo

9. Chili pepper

However you buy it (dried, fresh), this regular old hot pepper is excellent for the heart. These are Thai chilis. I’ve been addicted to them ever since my recent trip to Thailand.

thai

This is Nicodeemus1’s Flickr Photo

8. Cayenne pepper

Try substituting powdered cayenne for black pepper and watch your heart rate improve. It’s also less irritating to the stomach than black pepper.

cayenne

This is Princes Milady’s Flickr Photo

7. Habanero pepper

Is this thing the spiciest substance on earth, or is it just me? I’m not a fan, but if you love intense heat and/or torture, this guy is full of eye-healthy antioxidants. Good luck.

hab

This is Code Poet’s Flickr Photo

6. Jalapeno pepper

The ubiquitous pepper comes in a range of heat, but almost everyone can handle the mild selection. Lots of flavor, really powerful antioxidant benefit. Salsa is one of the healthiest foods you can eat because it’s essentially an antioxidant explosion – tomatoes, jalapenos, onions and often garlic.

jala

This is ilmungo’s Flickr Photo

5. Poblano (ancho) pepper

Gentler on the mouth, but still really nutritious.

ancho

This is Progoddess’ Flickr Photo

4. Anaheim pepper

Milder still (some come spicy). Both poblanos and anaheims are great peeled, then baked or stewed.

anaheim

This is Confident_Cook’s Flickr Photo

3. Bell pepper

I eat these crisp babies daily – red, orange, yellow, green.

bells

This is JStar’s Flickr Photo

2. Baby bell pepper

Have you tried these out? They’re popping up in grocery stores everywhere. I lop off the tops and toss them into just about everything from salads to stir fries. Appropriately lopped, they also make a great natural scoop for hummus.

minibells

This is Vandys’ Flickr Photo

1. Serrano pepper

A little more kick than jalapenos, and great in salsa, salad, stews, you name it.

serrano

This is Icka’s Flickr Photo

Sponsor note:

This post was brought to you by the Damage Control Master Formula, independently proven as the most comprehensive high-potency antioxidant multivitamin available anywhere. With the highest antioxidant per dollar value and a complete anti-aging, stress, and cognition profile, the Master Formula is truly the only multivitamin supplement you will ever need. Toss out the drawers full of dozens of different supplements with questionable potency and efficacy and experience the proven Damage Control difference!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Curry is one of my main ‘stumbling blocks’ – I could live on it but how can you enjoy curry without rice and/or naan bread?

    Val wrote on January 27th, 2010
  2. Thicken the curry, and more of it will stick to the veggies and won’t need to be sopped up. I use coconut milk in all my curries and reduce the liquid til I get the consistency I want. Pureeing some of the cooked veggies and mixing them back in will also work, as do the other strategies Mark’s written about. Or go the complete opposite direction and make it a soup!

    Andrea Reina wrote on November 11th, 2010
    • I can’t thank you enough for this comment! Great ideas :]

      Alexandra wrote on January 25th, 2012
  3. I’m confused. I thought peppers were nightshades, and contributed to inflamation. Then I read … yeah I don’t know where so that might be the problem … chili peppers can reduce inflamation. Can anyone clear this up?

    suzie wrote on March 27th, 2012
  4. Hello Mark,
    I heard on a interview to Dr. Cordain that chili peppers might contribute to a leaky gut, any insight on that?
    Thanks

    Juan Pablo Salmon wrote on October 11th, 2012
  5. I love peppers but most of them are a trigger for my ocular rosacea. Do you have any suggestions that would be helpful for that?

    Alex wrote on November 19th, 2012
  6. I’m 68 years old I eat hot peppers daily as a snack I have no acts or pain anty where .if I over eat and feel a little full I eat a pepper it makes me feel great .the rest of my family all have health problems

    Jack Wyrick wrote on October 27th, 2013
  7. Personally I absolutely love habaneros. :) They are an awesome combination of fruity, tropical taste and devastating, brutal heat.

    Sigmoid wrote on January 16th, 2014
  8. Sounds wonderful. My mouth was watering as I read. Unfortunately I’m sensitive/allergic to nightshades too.

    MattyD wrote on January 24th, 2014
    • I make extensive use of curries though. I just have to read the ingredients to be on the lookout for red pepper which is common in the hotter curries.

      MattyD wrote on January 24th, 2014

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

© 2014 Mark's Daily Apple

Subscribe to the Newsletter and Get a Free Copy
of Mark Sisson's Fitness eBook and more!