Habaneros belong to the same Capsicum family of chili peppers that includes jalapenos, poblanos and bell peppers. Native to Central America, South America and the Caribbean Islands, habanero peppers are the hottest of all commercially grown chili peppers, making them a favorite with aficionados of spicy dishes. Habaneros boast more benefits than intense heat, however. They contain a high concentration of vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and the compound capsaicin. Diets rich in the nutrients provided by habanero peppers may help prevent the development of a number of potentially serious medical conditions. If you suffer from digestive system problems like chronic heartburn or irritable bowel syndrome, talk to your doctor before eating habaneros.
Habanero peppers get their fiery kick from capsaicin, a compound that causes a burning sensation by activating pain receptors in the throat, nose and mouth. A 2006 study published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" found that the capsaicin consumed in chili peppers appeared to regulate insulin levels following a meal, especially for study subjects who were overweight. Since post-meal insulin spikes often lead to Type 2 diabetes, the researchers concluded that regularly eating chili peppers may decrease diabetes risk. As one of the hottest chili peppers available, habaneros contain more capsaicin than most other peppers. More research is needed, but habanero consumption may help diabetics control their insulin levels.
Decreased Cancer Risk
The capsaicin in habaneros may also prevent cancer. In the laboratory, scientists have demonstrated that capsaicin can inhibit the growth of prostate cancer cells, and may protect cells from becoming cancerous. In addition, habaneros contain significant amounts of vitamin C and vitamin A, both of which act as antioxidants, compounds that may decrease the risk of cancer by inhibiting the DNA-damaging effects of free radicals. Each half-cup serving of habanero peppers provides 300 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C, and 20 percent of the RDA of vitamin A.
Cardiovascular Disease Prevention
Researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong report that laboratory hamsters fed a high-cholesterol diet had higher LDL, or bad, cholesterol levels and more cholesterol-related arterial plaques than hamsters who were fed the same diet, but supplemented with capsaicin. The scientists hypothesized that eating chili peppers such as habaneros may lower cholesterol and decrease cardiovascular disease risk, but warned that additional studies and clinical trials were necessary.
Capsaicin acts an anti-inflammatory agent within the body, and can help treat the symptoms of inflammation-based conditions like arthritis and headaches. Capsaicin inhibits the production of Substance P, a compound that is responsible for the swelling and pain associated with inflammation. The capsaicin in habanero peppers may also be able to block the activity of nuclear transcription factors which can trigger inflammatory reactions that may lead to premature aging and cancer.
Author: Michelle Kerns