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Diet Diva
Diet Diva

Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus. 

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Put a Little Spice in Your Life!

My husband can eat raw Habaneros, the hottest pepper on the planet. Sometimes I think he actually has an iron stomach. I on the other hand whimper if the slightest hint of a jalapeno (5 times milder) crosses my lips. But honestly, I wish I wasn’t so pepper-phobic.

Believe it or not, firing up your diet can be really good for you. If you think about it, we tend to eat slower and drink more fluid when we’re “getting our spice on” – two effective weight control strategies. And, there are naturally occurring substances in peppers linked to all kinds of health benefits, including thinning the blood (lowering the risk of stroke); reducing the risk of certain cancers; clearing the sinuses (I’d say so!); boosting the immune system; and reducing inflammation. Peppers are also rich in beta-carotene (a powerful antioxidant) and immune boosting vitamin C. Finally, they’re super low in calories and sodium free (so you can flavor your food sans salt shaker). In a nutshell, they’re hot!

If you’ve been told to avoid spicy foods for medical reasons, certainly steer clear. And if you’re considering testing your tolerance, be careful not to choose a pepper that’s too fiery for your palate. The hotness of a pepper is measured in Scoville Heat Units (fun fact: a scale developed by Columbia University chemist Wilbur Scoville in 1912). The higher the number, the greater the heat. See how these five popular peppers stack up:

Anaheim – mild; great for sauces, soups, casseroles (500 to 2,500 Scoville Units)
Poblano – mild; great for stuffing and roasting (1,000 to 2,000 Scoville Units)
Mirasol – medium; often used in meat dishes, stews and mole sauces (2,500 – 5,000 Scoville Units)
Jalapeno – hot; can be eaten raw or added to any recipe for both heat and flavor – not for the faint of heart! (2,500 to 5,000 Scoville Units)
Habanero – extremely hot (for fire eaters only); handle with care (caution: can burn skin, cause coughing and watery eyes) (10,000 to 350,000 Scoville Units – zowie!)

If you eat a pepper that sets your mouth on fire, don’t drink water – it will only spread the heat. Instead, eat chips, crackers, a bread type product, or a dairy food such as milk, cheese or cream cheese to put out the flames.
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About the Author


Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

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