By Amy Lewis
Photography by ChiChi Ubiña
“I would like a shot of hot sauce, please.”
I recently returned from a girls trip with a group of wonderful women. One woman, in particular, is the inspiration behind this article. We were out to lunch when she pulled out a Ziploc bag filled with green chilies (for the record, we were in St. Barth’s, so she snuck these little guys through security), chopped one up and added it little by little to her food. This occurred at every meal. I tried a small bite and had an out of body moment where I couldn’t speak; my nose ran like crazy, and I took down three glasses of water. I wasn’t sure at first why she did this to herself, but I quickly figured it out. I’m not sure of her age, nor do I care, but she had one of the most beautiful natural bodies on the beach. Here I was swimming laps in the ocean and running up and down the beach thirty times every day wondering why she didn’t need to do the same.
It hit me a couple of weeks later on a trip with my daughters to Santa Fe. An Uber driver was telling us her life story about how she lost 380 pounds – yes, 380 pounds! She used to weigh 145 pounds, but ballooned up to 500 pounds due to stress. Anxiety is one of the most toxic things you can do to your body. In most cases, high cortisol levels will prevent you from losing weight no matter what you try. She said she started eating green hatch chiles every day and it helped to burn about 1 ½ pounds of fat per day. These chiles are extremely hot because of an ingredient called capsaicin. Let’s be honest, though; if you are 500 pounds, any minor change to your diet will help you lose weight. But here was where I had my epiphany: really hot chilies are doing something right for these ladies. My goal was to eat them and also to research them, and the timing couldn’t be better.
I’ll begin with the most pertinent information: hot peppers/chilies contain beta carotene and antioxidants, which help support a healthy immune system and aid in fighting off the flu and colds. Oddly enough, the heat from the pepper raises the body temperature and triggers the immune system into action. I don’t know about you, but forget about weight loss, I’ll eat ten a day if it does anything to keep me healthy! It makes sense that some of the nasal sprays on the market contain capsaicin. With the amount my nose runs when I eat these chilies, my nasal passages are completely cleared.
If the above wasn’t enough to spark an interest, let’s focus on its weight loss properties. Hot peppers can ever so slightly raise your metabolism and slow down your appetite while eating. A little jar of green chilies goes with me to every restaurant and I will attest that, when I eat one, I have to take breaks from eating. I am a fast eater, so slowing down the process prevents me from overindulging. Just last night, I was drinking white wine, which I know full well is full of sugar and will cause the worst headache. The pepper saved me! I took down 5 glasses of water, practically guaranteeing I was well hydrated. However, this is not to say that the green pepper is a miracle food. My personal belief is that if you have plateaued a bit in exercise, diet and weight loss, try spicing it up. Although please do not expect to burn 1 ½ pounds of fat per day. Many factors come into play. Your regiment is everything, and eating spicy french fries doesn’t mean the spice counteracts the fried food.
In all the research I read, the list goes on and on. Capsaicin helps with pain management, upping your threshold for what you can endure. It’s anti-inflammatory and also helps in preventing bad breath and allergic reactions. Some cultures that regularly eat hot peppers show longevity in age. There have even been studies in which capsaicin may help fight cancer by slowing and destroying cancer cells. Obviously, this will come with mixed emotions and no, it does not cause ulcers. Feel free to google that. However, we all have our threshold. Personally, I can only handle little green chilies from Patel Grocery in Norwalk. For some, its cayenne, jalapeno, or habanero sauce. I don’t think you need to start growing ghost peppers. But remember, bell peppers don’t count nor do spicy margaritas! Worst-case scenario, it’ll spice things up a bit.