There are three basic groups of peppers: bell, sweet, and hot. People all over the world eat them in one form or another. Some eat for them the flavour, some eat them for the challenge and many for a combination of the two.
I am going to focus here on the hot variety and just why they are so.
Peppers are hot because they contain a chemical called capsaicin and related chemicals called capsaicinoids. Capsaicin acts by binding with nerve receptors generally used to transmit heat and heat-related pain in the body. The higher the capsaicin content the hotter the pepper.
Scoville Heat Unit
In 1912 a chemist named Wilbur Scoville invented a scale to measure the heat of peppers. To this day pepper heat is measured in the Scoville Heat Unit. Bell and sweet peppers have zero Scoville units since they have no capsaicin. Jalepeno peppers measure from 2,500 to 8,000 Scoville units and the pepper that I mistakenly planted this year, the Bhut Jolokia chili pepper or ghost pepper, which holds the distinction of being the world’s hottest chili pepper, measures 1,001,304 Scoville.
Back to capsaicin. It’s a flavourless and odourless substance found on the inside flesh of peppers. The experience of heat happens when the chemical binds to receptors that are made to respond to pain and heat in the throat and mouth. This tricks the brain into thinking that your mouth is on fire, causing your body to fight the “heat” by boosting your metabolism (increasing circulation) and cooling via perspiration.
After the brain gets this heat alert it sends out the cooling troops to neutralize and remove the heat. These troops work to increased circulation by initiating cooling perspiration and reactions like a runny nose and teary eyes.
A chilli pepper’s spicy heat comes from the seeds so removing them minimizes the heat.
A chilli pepper’s spicy heat comes from the pith and ribs of the pepper, not the seeds.
The seeds may be coated with some of the capsaicin because they are in contact with the rib. But the seeds themselves don’t actually contain any heat.
The ribs contain a good deal of the capsaicin heat but the flesh itself contains a good amount of heat as well.
So why can some people beat the heat while others suffer the fire?
There are 3 reasons proposed to answer this question.
1. Less Capsaicin Detecting Receptors
This theory states that some people inherit fewer of the capsaicin-detecting receptors that line your mouth and throat, making them less sensitive to hot peppers.
2. Training our heat receptors
An associate professor at the Culinary Institute of America, William Phillips, pointed out that people in some parts of the world such as Mexico or India naturally have higher tolerance for spicy food because they begin eating them at a very young age.
This receptor training desensitizes a person to capsaicin over time so they actually perceive less burn from capsaicin.
3. Thrill Seekers Love the Burn
This is interesting. There was a study done in 2012 that showed sensation-seeking individuals are more likely to like spicy food. The researchers found that people who are more open to new experiences and enjoy thrill-based activities, think roller coaster and rock climbing, tend to enjoy spicy food even if the immediate sensation is unpleasant.
Nadia Byrnes, one of the researchers stated that “Biologically, spice creates a sensation in the mouth that the brain interprets as burning or being on fire. When your body realizes there’s no real danger, it begins to interpret the sensation as a ‘thrill’ similar to gambling or riding roller coasters.”
Why are peppers healthy?
Hot peppers are healthy and here is why:
On top of being “hot,” capsaicin has been shown to be anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic, and anti-diabetic.
Peppers are a rich source of vitamin C. They also contain antioxidants like vitamin A and also B-complex vitamins like vitamin B-6 and B-1.
Chillies have a good amount of minerals like magnesium, potassium, iron, and manganese.
There are countless ways to incorporate hot peppers in to your diet. Your first decision however is to determine what types of peppers pack just the right amount of heat for you.
Hot Pepper Oil
Here is a handy dandy way to use hot peppers.
Is it a recipe? Not sure but here is how it goes.
In a glass jar with a lid (I use 125ml one) cut up a a few peppers (I use 2-3 different types usually) enough to fill about half of the jar.
Fill the jar with a very good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil making sure all pepper are covered. Put the lid on the jar and let it sit for at least one day before using it.
Let’s address the elephant in the post here shall we. What are Coconut Aminos?
Coconut Aminos are a yummy sauce made from coconut sap. The sauce is dark, rich and salty. It is gluten free and is a great replacement for soy sauce.
Unbeknownst to many is the fact that, unless otherwise stated, soy sauce is made with wheat. The wheat is roasted and fermented with the soy to achieve the familiar soy sauce taste that we know and love.
Coconut Aminos don’t offer a powerhouse of nutritional content but if you are trying to maintain a gluten free diet they are the way to go when you need an alternative to soy sauce in your recipes.
The salmon recipe below is a family favourite of ours. It is not only simple, it is also a great way to introduce Coconut Aminos in to your diet if they are a new addition to your pantry.
Baked Salmon with Coconut Aminos Marinade
½ kg salmon fillets
1/3 cup real maple syrup
4 Tbsp Coconut Aminos
3 cloves minced garlic
¼ tsp.ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 200C
Mix the maple syrup, Coconut Aminos, garlic and pepper together in a small bowl
Place salmon fillets in to a dish, cover with the marinade and refrigerate 30 minutes – 1 hour
Transfer salmon fillets to a baking dish lined with parchment paper, saving the marinade, and bake the salmon until it is cooked through, approximately 15 minutes
Pour the saved marinade into a small saucepan and bring it to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.
Reduce to 1/4 cup.
When the salmon is done place it on a serving tray and drizzle the glaze over top of it.
For simple sides that really complement the salmon try serving this dish with roasted asparagus and wild rice.
Fermented foods boost our immune system, help to strengthen our bones, support weight loss and promote nutrient absorption.
Kombucha is a fermented beverage that has been enjoyed for many, many years. It is most commonly made with black tea and sugar. The fermenting is done with a colony of bacteria and yeast called a ‘Scoby’.
As with other fermented foods, Kombucha is high in antioxidants and it packs a punch of health benefits for the gut being rich in probiotics.
Kombucha has been studied for its anti-cancer properties. The tea polyphenols and antioxidants found in Kombucha were shown in these studies to prevent the growth and spread of cancerous cells.
Sticking to the perimeter of the grocery store is the ideal way to shop. But when the ideal meets the real and we find ourselves nose to label with packaging we need to be armed and ready.
Let’s face it, reading labels can be confusing. But it is a necessary evil when you want to eat healthy.
With a few tips however you will be able extrapolate the important information that you need to make good decisions in the grocery aisles.
First off avoid the propaganda on the front of the product and go right to the good stuff on the back. Companies can free wheel with what they say on the front of the packaging but there are real guidelines for what’s on the back. For example a label may say that a food product is reduced in fat or reduced sodium. What this means is that the amount of fat or sodium has been reduced from the original product amount. It doesn’t mean, however, that the food is low in fat or sodium.
Here are My 3 Top Things to Look For on a Product Label
1. Check out the Ingredients
Check out the ingredient list. Product ingredients are listed by quantity, from highest to lowest amount
2. Understand the serving size
It is really important that you understand that all of the nutrition information shown is based on serving size.
And don’t be deceived by this. A single serving may not be what you think. For instance, a serving size may be half a cup where as you might logically think it would be whole cup.
3. Know the Different Names for Sugar
We know by now the dangers of over consuming added sugars. With this in mind, it is very important that you become aware of the fact that there are many, many different names for sugar on a food label. Some of them end in –ose such as Sucrose, Maltose and Dextrose. Others like Barley Malt, Turinado and Molasses do not.
On the right side of a food label, you’ll see a column that lists the percent daily values (%DV). Percent daily values tell you how much of a the particular nutrient one serving will give you compared to how much you need for the entire day. It helps you gauge the percentage of a nutrient requirement met by one serving of the product.
Nutrition Facts Tables
Do you ever look at the Nutrition Facts tables? Do they help you decide which foods to buy or not? Do the numbers even make sense?
To be honest, I don’t think it’s that the most user-friendly or helpful tool. But it’s good to understand it since it’s here to stay.
Let me give you a super-quick crash course on reading the Nutrition Facts tables.
Then, try my delicious and super-easy snack recipe that’ll blow your pre-packaged granola bars out of the water.
How to Read the New Nutrition Facts Tables
The Nutrition Facts table is on the side of most packaged foods. It’s often found close to the ingredient listing.
The purpose of it is to help consumers make better nutrition decisions. When people can see the number of calories, carbs, sodium, etc. in food, they should be able to eat better, right?
Whether you like the Nutrition Facts table or not, let’s make sure you get the most out of it, since it’s here to stay!
Here’s my four-step crash course on reading the Nutrition Facts table.
Step 1: Serving Size
The absolute most important part of the Nutrition Facts table is to note the serving size. Manufacturers often strategically choose the serving size to make the rest of the table look good. Small serving = small calories/fat/carbs. So, it’s tricky.
All the information in the table rests on the amount chosen as the serving size. And, since every manufacturer chooses their own, it’s often difficult to compare two products.
In Canada, in the next few years (between 2017-2022), serving sizes will be more consistent between similar foods. This will make it easier to compare foods. The new labels will also have more realistic serving sizes to reflect the amount that people eat in one sitting, and not be artificially small.
Let’s use an example – plain, unsalted walnuts from Costco.
Right under the Nutrition Facts header is the serving size. That is a ¼ cup or 30 g. This means that all the numbers underneath it are based on this amount.
FUN EXPERIMENT: Try using a measuring cup to see exactly how much of a certain food equals one serving. You may be surprised at how small it is (imagine a ¼ cup of walnuts).
Step 2: % Daily Value
The % Daily Value (%DV) is based on the recommended daily amount of each nutrient the average adult needs. Ideally, you will get 100% DV for each nutrient every day. This is added up based on all of the foods and drinks you have throughout the day.
NOTE: Since children are smaller and have different nutritional needs if a type of food is intended solely for children under the age of 4, then those foods use a child’s average nutrition needs for the %DV.
The %DV is a guideline, not a rigid rule.
You don’t need to add all of your %DV up for everything you eat all day. Instead, think of anything 5% or less to be a little; and, anything 15% or more to be a lot.
NOTE: Not every nutrient has a %DV. You can see it’s missing for things like cholesterol, sugar, and protein. This is because there isn’t an agreed “official” %DV for that nutrient. The good news is that the new Nutrition Facts tables will include a %DV for sugar. Keep your eyes out for that.
Step 3: Middle of the table (e.g. Calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, potassium, carbohydrates, and protein)
Calories are pretty straight forward. Here, a ¼ cup (30 g) of walnuts has 200 calories.
Fat is bolded for a reason. That 19 g of fat (29% DV) is total fat. That includes the non-bolded items underneath it. Here, 19 g of total fat includes 1.5 g saturated fat, (19 g – 1.5 g = 17.5 g) unsaturated fat, and 0 g trans fat. (Yes, unsaturated fats including mono- and poly-unsaturated are not on the label, so you need to do a quick subtraction).
Cholesterol, sodium, and potassium are all measured in mg. Ideally, aim for around 100% of potassium and sodium each day. It’s easy to overdo sodium, especially if you grab pre-made, restaurant foods, or snacks. Keep an eye on this number if sodium can be a problem for you (e.g. if your doctor mentioned it, if you have high blood pressure or kidney problems, etc.).
Carbohydrate, like fat, is bolded because it is total carbohydrates. It includes the non-bolded items underneath it like fiber, sugar, and starch (not shown). Here, 30 g of walnuts contain 3 g of carbohydrates; that 3 g are all fiber. There is no sugar or starch. And as you can see, 3 g of fiber is 12% of your daily value for fiber.
Proteins, like calories, are pretty straight forward as well. Here, a ¼ cup (30 g) of walnuts contains 5 g of protein.
Step 4: Bottom of the table (e.g. vitamins & minerals)
The vitamins and minerals listed at the bottom of the table are also straightforward. The new labels will list potassium, calcium, and iron. Yes, potassium will drop from the middle of the table to the bottom, and both vitamins A & C will become optional.
Manufacturers can add other vitamins and minerals to the bottom of their Nutrition Facts table (this is optional). And you’ll notice that some foods contain a lot more vitamins and minerals than others do.
I hope this crash course in the Nutrition Facts table was helpful because it is important to be informed about what you are eating.
Proper nutrition is a key piece of cancer prevention so understanding what you choose to put in to your shopping cart is key.
Do you have questions about it? If so, leave me a comment below.
Delicious and Super-Easy Walnut Snack Recipe
8 walnut halves
4 dates, pitted
Make a “date sandwich” by squeezing each date between two walnut halves.