Updated: March 31, 2020
Given the craziness of everything that is COVID-19, we wanted to give this article a little update. There’s so much fear, misinformation, and general confusion about everything associated with this virus that sometimes it helps to revisit some old standards to help ground yourself again. Please have a read through why chiles have been a staple of a healthy diet, and maybe it’s something worth adding to your daily stay-at-home diet.
Chiles come in countless shapes, sizes, flavors, and heat, but one thing is for sure–they have some great health benefits.
Before getting into those benefits, here’s a quick backstory on the history of the chile.
Various sources cite either Brazil or Bolivia as the nuclear area of chiles. This term is used to describe where scientists believe chiles to have originated from–similar to how scientists use cradle of civilization to describe where humanity is said to have emerged from. Regardless of where the specific nuclear center of chiles is, these hot little fruits originated from South America.
Chiles evolved and mutated when they were moved from the nuclear area either by man or animals. It’s thought that birds were a major contributor to the evolution of the chile as they don’t register the heat chiles often have (it’s not surprising that one of the hottest chiles is known as the birdseye chile). Combine this natural occurrence with man exploring the globe and chiles evolved to be what we know them as today.
Not only did the types of chiles evolved throughout time, but the name had some tweaks as well. It’s suggested that Christopher Columbus added some flavor to chiles by imparting the word pepper to chiles (as in chile pepper). It supposedly reminded him of the black peppercorn when he first tried it, and the name stuck. Not only has pepper become a synonym for chiles, but there are plenty of other spellings too (ie. chili, chilli, chili pepper, chile pepper, etc.).
As the world shrank (through exploration and colonization) the chile became domesticated. Upon domestication, chiles became a crucial element to various cultures throughout the world. Obviously, South America, Central America, and the Southwest portions of North America have hallmark chiles which are integral to their cuisine as are the chiles in South Asia (think China and India).
As the chile became more integrated into people’s diets, there were some notable health benefits. Which begs the question, what are some of those benefits, and do they still work today?
Immune System Booster
There are various studies both in support and denying whether chiles are a way to boost your immune system. Similar to most anything you find on the internet, you can find just about any article to support whatever perspective you may have.
The studies in support of chiles boosting immunity focus on the presence of beta-carotene (aka pro-vitamin A) as well as a high concentration of vitamin C. Vitamin A was studied heavily before World War II which was prior to the emergence of sulfa antibiotics. There hasn’t been a conclusive study ruling out chiles as a cure-all, preventative remedy; however, the studies often claim there are some potential benefits in that realm.
Our thoughts are to incorporate chiles into a balanced, daily diet. If you feel it provides your immune system a boost, that’s fantastic! If not, you’ve just added a healthy (and tasty) ingredient to your meals.
Eating spicy food can be tiring! We’re not talking about the energy you expend running to the fridge to pour a glass of milk, but the actual act of eating a chile. When you feel the heat, your body is creating that, burning calories in the process. Now, you can’t just go and eat a bunch of guajillo chiles and lose weight, but it can be an effective element of eating healthy, yet flavorful food.
Just like chiles are thought to help fight fat buildup on your love handles, the same principle applies to heart health. Chiles reduce lipid deposits, and lowers blood serum cholesterol which helps in the prevention of heart disease. Additionally, it can dilate blood vessels which aids in blood flow.
What’s a typical indicator of something being a little spicy? Your nose starts to run! This is an obvious benefit to chiles. Not only does it help you breathe better through your nose, but chiles can help clear out congestion in your lungs too.
Even though the health benefits of eating chiles can be argued, there’s no debating how delicious they are.