Boy, do I love peppers, especially hot ones. They are one of my comfort foods (besides chocolate - can’t forget chocolate) and I’ll tell you why a little later. There are thousands of types of hot peppers, and besides making my eyes water, my forehead sweat and my mouth feel like hell moved in, they all offer a boatload of nutritional benefits.

For instance, a half cup of green chilies (low in the heat factor) is low in calories, sugars and carbohydrates but it also supplies a big dose of Vitamin C. By the way, Vitamin C is in itself a medical wonder, boosting the immune function, healing wounds and iron absorption. It’s also an antioxidant, which means it destroys free radicals that can enter and damage cells. I add them (and pablanos, another low heat pepper) to my chili, salsa and other dishes.

Chile peppers contain other vitamins and minerals, many of which are linked to anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties and can even lower blood pressure. The real wonder of chile peppers, though, is what makes them hot, and that’s capsaicin. If you’re squeamish about the heat, go with mild to moderately hot peppers and remove the ribs which is where most of the heat is located. You can cook them as well which reduces the burn factor by a couple points and also brings out even more flavor. I char mine in the oven.

Want to gage your heat resistance? The Scoville Scale is the standardized measure of pepper hotness. Traditional red Tabasco sauce (one of my favorites to jazz up those low calorie frozen meals) represents 2,500 to 5,000 Scoville Heat Units. For pure capsaicin, the tally is a whooping 16 million Scoville Heat Units.

South Carolina is home to the hottest pepper in the world. In 2012, Guinness World Records declared Carolina Reaper the hottest chili pepper measuring 1,569,300 Scoville scale. I haven’t tried it. I couldn’t take an erupting volcano in my mouth.

If you’re worried about an upset stomach, there’s no proof that hot peppers upset the stomach any more than other foods. In fact, a study showed capsaicin actually stimulated the stomach to produce protective mechanisms against ulcers. What you have to be careful of is touching them then touching your eyes. I learned a painful lesson after cutting up habanero peppers then rubbing an eye. I might as well have had a hot poker jabbed in my eye.

Studies have shown that 10 grams of red chili peppers can significantly increase fat burning in both men and women. And when the capsaicin binds to pain receptors in the mouth and nose it sends signals to the brain, which releases our feel-good chemicals, endorphins and dopamine. So, if I eat a chili pepper, wait about half an hour then exercise (which also releases those same chemicals) I should be on cloud 9 for about a week. And I didn’t even have to pop a single pill.

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