Should you let the chili peppers spice up your meals?

Should you let the chili peppers spice up your meals?

For thousands of years, people have been picking chili peppers to supply their diets with pizazz.

There is no doubt that chili peppers are full of flavor. They also provide little fiber without salt, sugar, saturated fat or many calories, said Professor Linda Van Horn, head of the nutrition department at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a raw, red chili pepper – 45 grams or about 1.6 ounces – has only 18 calories.

But chili peppers as a vegetable have a relatively low nutritional value, Van Horn said. “They offer some beta-carotene, but nothing compares to carrots.”

It is true that ounce by ounce, a pepper has more vitamin C than an orange. But, Van Horn said, vitamin C is typically not a nutrient of concern in the United States. And even in cultures where chili plays a bigger role, other vegetables – tomatoes, onions, cabbage, kale, spinach – can be easy sources.

If you prefer your peppers as flakes or powders, be aware that raw foods tend to be more potent, nutritionally, than dried versions, Van Horn said.

It is also a case where spelling matters. (More on that in a moment.) Red chili powder, or flakes, are made from dried chili. The flags have virtually no nutritional value.

Chili (with an “i”) powder is actually a mixture of red chili, other spices and salt. So even though a tablespoon still provides beta carotene (which your body uses to make vitamin A), it adds 230 milligrams of sodium. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams a day, with an ideal limit of 1,500 mg for most adults.

Most commercially grown red peppers are of the species Capsicum annuum, which is nothing, if not versatile. The Latin term covers hundreds of common names, including cayenne pepper, but also jalapeños and Thai pepper.

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