If you’re the type of person who welcomes that hot, flavor-packed burning sensation that comes from eating spicy foods, then you might already be a pretty big fan of cayenne pepper. You might even be familiar with some cayenne pepper benefits, like its potential to promote weight loss by consuming it in a concoction of lemon juice, maple syrup, and water.
But is there any merit to any of these claims? Keep reading to find out.
What Is Cayenne Pepper and Why Is It So Spicy?
Named after the city of Cayenne in French Guiana, cayenne pepper is a medium-hot pepper that can be found in a fresh, dried, or powdered form. On the Scoville scale, which is used to denote the heat ratings of chilli peppers, cayenne pepper is rated at 30,000 to 50,000 units (for reference, habaneros and scotch bonnet peppers range anywhere from 100,000 to 350,000).
What makes cayenne pepper particularly special is its high concentration of capsaicin — a chemical component found in all chill peppers that acts as an irritant among most mammals (a.k.a. that hot, burning sensation). When used properly, this chemical also has the power to increase blood circulation, boost the metabolism, and even relieve pain.
Nutritional Benefits of Cayenne Pepper
You can’t consume cayenne pepper in large amounts due to how spicy it is, but it still offers quite a few nutritional values even in extremely small doses. Of all spices, it’s the richest source of vitamin A. You’ll get a healthy dose of vitamin C and B-complex vitamins too.
In addition to the vitamins in has to offer, cayenne pepper is full of essential minerals like potassium, niacin, riboflavin, iron, zinc, copper, magnesium, manganese, and selenium. One teaspoon of powdered cayenne pepper is just six calories, yet packs half a gram of fiber into it. (Although, we do not recommend ingesting a teaspoon of cayenne all at once. Unless you have no feeling in your tongue.)
How Cayenne Pepper Can Support a Healthy Diet
It turns out that cayenne pepper does indeed have some calorie-burning power to it, although more research is still needed to determine its effects on weight loss. According to WebMD, one particular study found that people who consumed about half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper with food or in capsule form, burned approximately ten extra calories within the four hours of consuming it.
Of course, ten calories is barely anything at all, but better results may be experienced from consuming it in non-capsule form, which triggers a burning sensation in the mouth that increases core body temperature and energy expenditure. As an extra added benefit, the study also found that those who weren’t used to eating spicy foods experienced lowered appetites and ate 66 fewer calories.
When it comes to cayenne pepper, it's all about the burn! Feeling that burn in your mouth maximizes digestion by stimulating saliva, enzyme production and gastric fluids. All of this helps your body metabolize the food you eat, absorb nutrients and rid itself of harmful toxins.
Capsaicin Uses for Pain and Inflammation
Believe it or not, not all cayenne pepper benefits involve ingesting it. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the capsaicin component found in cayenne pepper has strong pain-relieving properties when it's applied to the skin in a cream form, which can be used to aid in the relief of a variety of conditions including psoriasis, arthritis, muscle pain, nerve pain, pain after having surgery, and lower back pain.
The capsaicin works to relieve pain by reducing the amount of the pain-triggering chemical called substance P. from reaching the brain. Reductions in substance P. mean that your brain doesn’t receive the pain messages from the part of your body that’s causing you pain.
How to Use Cayenne Pepper In Your Everyday Life
You can add thin slices of fresh cayenne peppers to soups and stews, or you can chop them up into smaller pieces and sprinkle them over roasted or grilled dishes like pork and fish. Powdered cayenne is a little easier to use since it lasts a lot longer and can be used in smaller amounts due having a more concentrated level of spiciness.
Try adding a small amount of powdered cayenne pepper to homemade salad dressings, marinades for meats and fish, salsas, dips, hummus, and practically anything else that you think could use a pinch of spicy flavor. Cayenne pepper can even be added to desserts by combining it with a bit of cinnamon in any chocolate dishes like cookies, macarons, and hot chocolate.
Health Risks Associated with Cayenne Pepper
Besides the uncomfortable burn in your mouth you might feel if you consume too much cayenne pepper, it can also cause stomach irritation and even heartburn. If you’re new to trying cayenne pepper, start with a pinch and gradually increase it over a period of several weeks, slowly increasing as you build up your tolerance.
If you’re pregnant, have any allergies (to bananas, kiwi fruit, avocados, chestnuts, or latex in particular), or take any medications, then you should certainly talk to your doctor before adding cayenne pepper to your diet. If you plan on using its benefits for skin inflammation and pain relief, never apply ointments of creams that contain capsaicin to cracked skin or open wounds, and again, talk with your doctor about your symptoms first before trying it.
It's time to embrace the heat! Cayenne pepper is so versatile and easy to use that you can really get creative with adding it to some of your favorite dishes, if not just for all the health benefits, then for an exciting boost of spicy flavor at the very least.
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