Health Benefits of Jalapeños

If you like your meals on the spicy side, you're in good company. People have been flavoring their food with jalapeños (ha-la-PEEN-yos) for some 6,000 years. Originally from Mexico and a staple in that country's cuisine, today these strong peppers also grow in California and throughout the American Southwest.

Most jalapeños are deep green and grow to about 2 to 3 inches long. Some turn red, purple, or other vivid colors after they ripen.

Some are spicier than others. You can buy them fresh and whole in the produce section or canned, sliced, or pickled on the supermarket aisles. Any way you slice them, these little firecrackers are exploding with health benefits.

Variety Is the Spice of Life

There are dozens of varieties of jalapeños. Some of the most common include:

  • The Señorita -- very hot, dark green, and can turn purple or red if left on the vine
  • The Fresno -- a smaller, milder cousin of the Señorita
  • The Sierra Fuego -- a larger, mildly hot pepper that grows from dark green to red
  • The Mucho Nacho – mildly spicy and the longest jalapeño pepper (up to 4 inches)

Chipotles are dried, smoked jalapeños.

Nutrients per Serving

One raw jalapeño has:

  • Calories: 4
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 1 gram
  • Protein: 0.1 gram
  • Fiber: 0.4 gram

Health Benefits

Jalapeños are rich in vitamins A and C and potassium. They also have carotene -- an antioxidant that may help fight damage to your cells – as well as folate, vitamin K, and B vitamins.

Many of their health benefits come from a compound called capsaicin. That's what makes the peppers spicy.

Longer Life

One study shows that people who ate hot peppers several times a week were 13% less likely to die during the 19-year study than those who ate few to no peppers. Researchers think capsaicin's role in promoting blood flow and preventing obesity may contribute.

Pain Relief

Capsaicin is a natural pain reliever, but only when you put it directly on your skin. That doesn't mean you should rub yourself with jalapeños. Anyone who's done that knows it burns.

If you want the pain-relieving effects of capsaicin, you'll need to use creams, ointments, or patches that have the stuff. You might use capsaicin if you're hurting from arthritis, sore muscles, and nerve trouble.

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Weight Loss and Blood Sugar Control

You may have heard that spicy food helps you drop extra pounds. While peppers aren't a silver bullet for slimming down, studies show that eating them regularly can speed up metabolism, help burn fat, and curb your appetite.

Eating chili peppers before a high-carb meal may also help prevent blood sugar spikes.

Safety Warnings

Contaminated jalapeños have caused outbreaks of illnesses, including salmonella. It's important to wash all produce before you eat it. Talk to your doctor if you're pregnant or have a problem with your immune system, your body's defense against germs.

Some research shows that the capsaicin in peppers may make heartburn worse and cause problems for people with irritable bowel syndrome. You may want to avoid jalapeños if you have a digestive system condition.

How to Prepare, Eat, and Store Them

Wear gloves when you cut jalapeños. Capsaicin, which is mostly on the inside of the pepper, is hard to wash off your hands and can burn and irritate your eyes, mouth, and nose if you touch them after touching a jalapeño.

If you soak cut-up jalapeños in salt water for at least half an hour before you eat or cook them, it lowers some of the spiciness.

Fresh jalapeños will last up to 3 weeks if you wrap them in paper towel and store them in your refrigerator.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on July 31, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

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Adrienne Youdim, MD, associate clinical professor of medicine, UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine.

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