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Peppers pack powerful health punch

Published 8:25pm Thursday, May 30, 2013

Well, now warmer weather’s here and many folks, including myself, have planted vegetable gardens.
Today, I’d like to share information on one of my favorites … peppers.

There are literally thousands of types and varieties. Peppers come in a wide range of sizes, flavors and colors. Some pepper plants can be tiny, while others can reach almost 10 feet.

Peppers are actually fruits, not vegetables, but whether spicy or sweet they provide many healthful benefits. Peppers contain compounds called phytochemicals, which help protect our bodies from free radical damage. Each color of pepper is associated with its individual family of phytochemicals. Peppers are nutrient-dense and rich sources of vitamins A and C. In fact, just one cup provides more than 100 percent of the daily need for these nutrients.

Peppers are low in calories and rich in water, so they’re great for those trying to lose weight. Red peppers contain lycopene, a carotenoid many health experts believe helps prevent cancers of the prostate, bladder, cervix and pancreas. Beta-cryptoxanthin, another carotenoid found in red pepper, shows much promise in preventing lung cancer. They contain vitamin K (if you’re on blood thinning medication consult your doctor before consuming vitamin K-rich foods), which helps promote proper blood clotting. Peppers help reduce inflammation like that found in asthma and arthritis.

The heat from spicy peppers comes from a compound called capsaicin which actually acts on the mouths pain receptors, not taste buds. Heat from spicy peppers can measured on the Scoville pepper heat chart. Mildest hot peppers are pimento, pepperoncini and banana peppers (100-900 units), jalapeno peppers (3,500-8,000 units), Habanero peppers (1,000,000-350,000 units), Bhut Jolokia chile peppers (855,000-1,463,700), and the hottest rating in heat units are Trinidad Moruga scorpion peppers and law enforcement grade pepper spray, both at 1,500,000-2,000,000 units.

Capsaicin has been shown to reduce blood cholesterol and triglycerides, help boost immunity, and yes, believe it or not, reduce risk of stomach ulcers. It was once believed hot pepper caused or at least aggravated this condition, but capsaicin actually kills bacteria in the stomach that can cause ulcers. Hot peppers are great for weight loss too, because they increase the body’s heat production and oxygen consumption, thereby burning more calories.

Capsaicin found in hot peppers also helps the body’s release of endorphins, which act as neurotransmitters produced by the pituitary gland in the brain. Endorphins are similar to morphine and help reduce pain, depression and help the body heal from sickness or injury.

Unlike morphine, though, endorphins don’t lead to addiction or dependence. In addition, peppers contain vitamin B6, which is vital for essential chemical reactions in our bodies, compounds lutein and zeaxanthin, which slow the development of eye disease, and beta-carotene, which helps fight cancers. So, whether you enjoy sweet or spicy, give peppers a try and reap the healthful benefits. By the way, for those of you who grow peppers, I learned an interesting fact from a client who is a master gardener. Hot peppers only become hot once the weather gets hot.

Diet or Exercise question? Email me at dwcrocker77@gmail.com or visit fitness4yourlife.org. David Crocker of Landrum has been a nutritionist and master personal trainer for 26 years. He served as strength director of the Spartanburg Y.M.C.A., head strength coach for the USC-Spartanburg baseball team, S.C state champion girls gymnastic team, and the Converse college equestrian team.
He has been a water safety consultant to the United States Marine Corps., lead trainer to L.H. Fields modeling agency, and taught four semesters at USC-Union. Crocker was also a regular guest of the Pam Stone radio show.

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