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.

Popcorn shrimp's got nothing on this.

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.

Bring on the heat!

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.

Eat me.

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.

Turning brave stomachs everywhere.

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.

This is ilmungo’s Flickr Photo

5. Poblano (ancho) pepper

Gentler on the mouth, but still really nutritious.

Is it dinner time yet?

This is Progoddess’ Flickr Photo

4. Anaheim pepper

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


This is Confident_Cook’s Flickr Photo

3. Bell pepper

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

Salad's best friends

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.

antioxidant explosions rock

This is Vandys’ Flickr Photo

1. Serrano pepper

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

The hotness

This is Icka’s Flickr Photo

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About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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