Cayenne Pepper: Benefits, Nutrition, and Risks

Cayenne Pepper: Benefits, Nutrition, and Risks

Cayenne peppers (Capsicum annuum) are moderately hot chili peppers that belong to the Solanaceae or nightshade plant family.

Cayenne peppers have a hot and spicy flavor and are commonly used in recipes like curries, soups, and meat dishes. These peppers are high in protective nutrients and plant compounds that may benefit health in several ways.

Here’s everything you need to know about cayenne peppers, including their potential health benefits, nutrition, and safety.

Hot peppers, like cayenne, are a rich source of antioxidants, which protect cells from damage by neutralizing highly reactive compounds called free radicals.

One of the most prevalent phytochemicals found in cayenne peppers is capsaicin, a pungent alkaloid compound responsible for cayenne’s hot and spicy flavor that’s been shown to have powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

In addition to capsaicin, cayenne peppers contain carotenoids, flavonoids, and vitamin C, all of which have potent antioxidant effects on the body. Studies show that extracts from cayenne peppers may protect health by reducing inflammatory responses in the body, decreasing levels of inflammatory proteins such as interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-a) levels, and inhibiting free radical production.

Findings from older studies suggest that chili peppers, like cayenne peppers, have greater antioxidant activity compared to other types of peppers, including habanero-type peppers (C. chinense). This is due to their higher phenol and capsaicinoid content.

Adding cayenne peppers to a well-rounded diet could help boost your intake of protective plant compounds and nutrients that can promote and protect overall health.

Regularly consuming cayenne pepper may benefit health by introducing nutrients and plant compounds that lower the risk of common health conditions, such as heart disease.

For example, chili peppers, like cayenne peppers, contain compounds that may enhance blood flow and reduce inflammation, which may benefit the cardiovascular system. Multiple studies have shown that people who regularly consume hot peppers, like cayenne peppers, have a reduced risk of dying from heart disease and cancer.

A 2023 meta-analysis that included data on over 560,000 people found that, compared to people who didn’t consume chili peppers or rarely consumed them, people who ate chili peppers more than once per week had an 11% and 15% reduced risk of dying from heart disease and cancer, respectively.

This suggests that people who consume chili peppers regularly tend to stay healthier and live longer than people who don’t. Experts think that eating hot peppers, like cayenne peppers may help reduce inflammation and cellular damage and enhance blood flow, which may help reduce the risk of several health conditions and support a long and healthy life.

Most Americans consume too much added salt in their diets due to an over-reliance on heavily processed foods, such as fast food and salty snack foods. Consuming too much salt can harm health in several ways, including contributing to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease.

Cutting back on your added salt intake can help cut your risk of heart disease and support the health of your entire body, including your kidneys and immune system.

Adding spicy foods, like cayenne peppers, to your meals could help you cut back on added salt. Studies suggest that people who like spicy foods have lower salt intake and blood pressure than people who dislike spicy food.

Interestingly, compounds found in cayenne peppers, like capsaicin, increase the perception of saltiness, which may reduce the need to add salt to your food.

One 2017 study that included 66 people found that, compared to eating tomato soup without cayenne, the participant’s desire for salt significantly decreased after consuming tomato soup with added cayenne. In addition to reducing the need for salt, the added cayenne helped boost feelings of fullness after eating. However, the participants did experience an increased desire for sweets and fats after eating the cayenne-containing soup, suggesting that cayenne may affect overall taste perception and cravings.

Peppers, including cayenne peppers, are highly nutritious, providing fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

However, unlike sweet peppers, which are usually consumed in larger quantities, cayenne peppers are typically enjoyed in small portions. That said, even when consumed in small portions, cayenne can help you meet your daily requirements for certain nutrients, such as vitamin C.

Here’s the nutrition breakdown for one 45-gram hot red chili pepper:

  • Calories: 18
  • Protein: 0.8 grams (g)
  • Fat: 0.19 g
  • Carb: 3.9 g
  • Fiber: 0.67 g
  • Vitamin C: 64.8 milligrams (mg), or 72% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • B6: 0.228 mg, or 13% of the DV
  • Vitamin K: 6.3 micrograms (mcg), or 5% of the DV

Chili peppers, like cayenne pepper, are rich in vitamin C, a nutrient that functions as a powerful antioxidant in the body and is necessary for immune function, collagen production, iron absorption, and neurotransmitter synthesis.

Due to its powerful cellular-protective properties, research shows that diets rich in vitamin C may protect against several health conditions, including certain cancers. For example, a 2022 review that included 57 meta-analyses found that vitamin C consumption was associated with a lower incidence of multiple cancers, including breast cancer, bladder cancer, and lung cancer.

One 45-gram chili pepper covers 72% of your daily needs for this nutrient, making cayenne peppers an excellent source of vitamin C.

In addition to vitamin C, chili peppers like cayenne peppers provide smaller amounts of other nutrients like B6, vitamin K, vitamin A, iron, and potassium

Most people can safely enjoy small amounts of cayenne pepper in their diet. However, consuming cayenne pepper in large amounts or taking high-dose cayenne pepper supplements may lead to dangerous side effects.

Some people take cayenne pepper supplements to enhance weight loss or support other aspects of health. Unfortunately, taking in very high doses of cayenne can be dangerous as capsaicin can impact heart rate and blood pressure when consumed in large amounts. There have been several reports of heart-related incidents triggered by cayenne pepper supplements.

For example, one 2017 case study reported that a 21-year-old man suffered a heart attack after taking cayenne pepper pills twice a day for two days. Taking too high a dose of cayenne can trigger irregular heart rate and increase blood pressure, which can harm the health of the heart and lead to heart attacks in extreme cases. This can be especially dangerous for people with pre-existing heart conditions, such as arrhythmia or irregular heart rate.

Additionally, consuming large portions of cayenne can lead to stomach upset and may aggravate symptoms of acid reflux. It’s best to enjoy cayenne in moderation and stick to smaller portions when using it in cooking.

Cayenne pepper can be used in a variety of recipes, including savory and sweet dishes.

Here are a few ways to incorporate cayenne into your diet:

  • Use fresh cayenne to add spice to dishes like curries and stir-fries
  • Add powdered cayenne to chilis and soups
  • Mix cayenne into chocolate cake batter for a sweet and spicy flavor
  • Make a homemade flavored butter by adding powdered cayenne to softened butter
  • Add a small amount of fresh cayenne pepper to egg dishes, like frittatas and omelets
  • Add a dash of cayenne and cinnamon to your hot chocolate
  • Use finely diced cayenne pepper in sauces, marinades, and dressings

When cooking with cayenne, it’s best to start with a small amount and taste your recipe before adding more. This spicy pepper can easily overwhelm dishes if too much is used.

It’s also important to wash your hands after handling cayenne pepper and avoid touching your face and eyes when working with cayenne as its oils can irritate your skin and eyes.

Cayenne peppers are a type of hot pepper commonly used to increase the spice level of dishes like sir-fries, curries, and chili.

Cayenne peppers are high in protective plant compounds and nutrients such as vitamin C and capsaicin, and may benefit health when regularly consumed as part of a healthy diet.

Though cayenne peppers offer a variety of health benefits, they may lead to dangerous side effects when consumed in large amounts, so it’s best to enjoy them in moderation.

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