Roughly one-third of all Americans -- or more than 70 million people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- have high cholesterol, a symptom-free condition that significantly increases the risk of heart disease. Although any kind of pepper fits into a heart-healthy diet aimed at reducing high cholesterol, chili peppers may offer greater benefits.
Chili Pepper Benefits
Chili peppers, including cayennes, jalapenos, serranos and habaneros, get their fiery heat from a group of phytochemicals known as capsaicinoids. A 2014 study published in the “Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry” found that capsaicinoids help reduce high cholesterol levels by breaking blood cholesterol down, preventing its accumulation and promoting its excretion. Capsaicinoids decreased both total and LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol levels, without affecting HDL, or “good,” cholesterol.
The capsaicinoids in chili peppers offer cardiovascular benefits beyond promoting healthy blood cholesterol levels. These potent phytochemicals may help reduce the formation of arterial plaque and decrease the size of cholesterol deposits that have already formed in arteries, protecting against the kind of narrowing that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Chili peppers with a high heat index, such as habaneros, are a better source of capsaicinoids than milder varieties. When handling peppers during cooking, avoid skin irritation by wearing gloves, and be careful not to get any pepper oils in your eyes. Although sweet bell peppers don’t contain capsaicinoids, they’re still a good source of dietary fiber. According to Harvard University Health Services, roughly 40 percent of the fiber in bell peppers is soluble, the kind that promotes healthy cholesterol levels.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Facts About Cholesterol
- American Chemical Society: Hot Pepper Compound Could Help Hearts
- Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: Capsaicinoids But Not Their Analogue Capsinoids Lower Plasma Cholesterol and Possess Beneficial Vascular Activity
- Harvard University Health Services: Fiber Content of Foods in Common Portions
- Wellness Foods A to Z: An Indispensable Guide for Health-Conscious Food Lovers; Sheldon Margen, M.D.