HOT AND HEALTHY! (this information from http://www.cookingwithfire.com)
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Millions of people from many cultures from around the world enjoy the flavor and fire of hot foods. After all, chiles are the second most common spices in the world, following salt. Few people, however, realize the many health benefits that chile peppers offer. A substance called capsaicin causes the heat of chiles and peppers.
Capsaicin has been associated with many cures that include lowering blood pressure, reducing cholesterol and warding off strokes and heart attacks, speeding up metabolism, treating colds and fevers, preventing cancer and pain control. Capsaicin is a flavorless, odorless chemical concentrated in the veins of chiles and peppers.
The seeds grow next to the veins and absorb the chemical. Contrary to popular belief, the seeds are not the hottest part of a chile. Rather, the greatest heat is found in the capsaicin oil, which is found in the membranes and near the stems of chiles plants. Removing the seeds and especially the veins can reduce the heat by up to fifty percent. Otherwise, capsaicin is virtually indestructible and can withstand freezing, cooking and time.
Experts believe that capsaicin acts on and desensitizes nerve fibers that carry pain signals throughout the nervous system. Repeated and high doses of capsaicin prevent sensory nerves from replenishing their chemical stores and they basically run out of neurotransmitters (the chemical agents that transmit the message of pain to a nerve or muscle).
When taken internally, capsaicin stimulates circulation sequentially, from the internal organs to skin surface and subsequently throughout the entire body. When applied externally and once it penetrates the skin, capsaicin increases circulation to the site where it has been applied. Capsaicin has been used medicinally for centuries. Hot peppers were one of the first plants domesticated in the Americas. Archaeologists believe people in Mexico were eating chiles and peppers as early as 7000 BC. Ancient pain-relievers and other medications used capsaicin as a major ingredient.
Capsaicin has been proven to be highly successful in relieving symptoms of arthritis, sports injuries, other kinds of chronic joint and muscle pain, and certain kinds of itching. Capsaicin cream was originally used to treat the intense pain of herpes zoster (shingles), which is a nerve infection caused by chicken pox and usually afflicts adults. Medical studies have shown that capsaicin significantly lowers cholesterol and is a factor in warding off strokes and heart attacks.
Capsaicin has also been medicinally proven to aid in the human body's process of digestion and protect against stomach ulcers and the ravages of alcohol. Contrary to popular belief that ulcer sufferers should avoid spicy foods, a report published in "Digestive Diseases and Sciences" concluded that capsaicin increased blood flow in the stomach's mucous lining, which may help in healing of the stomach tissue.
Chile also protects against the side effects of aspirin and chile eaters develop fewer peptic ulcers than those who eat plain foods. Also, rates of stomach cancer are unusually low in countries where chile peppers are part of a regular diet, as capsaicin appears to neutralize some carcinogens. Research has proven that adding chile peppers to your foods can help your body burn calories faster (up to 45 calories more per meal than if you eat bland dishes) and speed up your metabolism. Chile peppers are an incredible replacement for the fat and salt in your diet as the flavors of the foods are enhanced sufficiently with the ingredients themselves.
When people eat hotter chiles, they experience pain in their mouths and throats. The nervous system reacts to the pain by releasing morphine-like endorphins. Endorphins create a sense of euphoria similar to the "runner's high" that some people get from exercise. People who regularly eat chiles will find that they develop a tolerance to the heat and will have to eat increasingly hotter foods to get the high. Fresh chiles offer the highest source of vitamin C available from any vegetable.
Surprisingly, fresh, uncooked green chiles provide at least twice and up to eight times the amount that is available from citrus fruits. Chiles are also a good source of vitamin A. As chiles turn from green to red, they lose much of their vitamin C but gain vitamin A through increased amounts of carotene. When fresh chiles are dried they lose most of their vitamin C content, but their vitamin A content increases 100 times. In addition to adding great flavor to food that thrills the palate, chiles offer the world some amazing health benefits.
Medical research continues into the medicinal powers of peppers through scientific studies and clinical trials. In the years to come, perhaps society can blend the knowledge of the ancient cultures with modern medicine and arrive at a balance that ensures the prevention of disease and the promotion of good health, using every means at our disposal. Chiles are not only "hot" in popularity and flavor, but have proven to be very "healthy" as well.
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