Healing Foods: Cayenne

Why we're hot for this culinary staple
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Healing Foods: Cayenne

Take up to three cayenne veg caps daily, totaling 450 to 600 milligrams, preferably with meals to avoid irritating the digestive tract. Or add a pinch (progressing to 1/2 teaspoon) of cayenne powder to 1 cup of boiling water, along with a squirt of lemon juice, and let sit five minutes. Drink two or three times a day.

HOW IT HEALS

The fiery fruit of the Capsicum annuum shrub, cayenne is a close relative of the jalapeño chile. Capsaicin, the active phytochemical that makes cayenne hurt so good, offers myriad health benefits. "It's a natural blood thinner that works to improve circulation and reduce blood clots," says David Forbes, MD, president of the American Holistic Medical Association. Studies also show that cayenne can help treat heartburn and ulcers, Forbes adds, a finding that's a bit counterintuitive. Additionally, research suggests that cayenne can rev metabolism and quell appetite, leading to a reduction in calorie intake. Antioxidant capsaicin may also be an ally in the battle against pancreatic cancer, according to a 2008 University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine study.

EAT IT UP

If a hearty bean chili could speak, it would say to cayenne: "You complete me." A generous dash or two of dried, ground cayenne also lends a smoky bite to sweet potato fries, Indian dals, curries, chocolate desserts, poppy seed dressing, pasta sauce, and tomato soup. A dusting of cayenne can pep up movie night popcorn too. If you get overzealous and set your mouth ablaze, reach for a glass of milk, not water, to dampen the fire.

Look for fresh cayenne chiles in Latin markets, and use them in batches of homemade hot sauce or salsa, stir-fries, or Southeast Asian dishes. To tamp down the heat, discard the chiles' seeds and ribs, which harbor much of the capsaicin; be careful not to rub your eyes when handling the peppers, and wear gloves. Keep in mind, too, that eating cayenne regularly can cause you to build up a tolerance to its kick.

"Anyone on blood-thinning drugs should limit their use of cayenne," cautions Forbes. Also check with your doctor if you're taking ACE inhibitors, stomach acid reducers, or the asthma drug theophylline. To avoid upsetting their newborns, nursing mothers are advised to abstain.

RECIPE:

Cayenne-Spiced Roasted Nuts

Supplement Savvy

Take up to three cayenne veg caps daily, totaling 450 to 600 milligrams, preferably with meals to avoid irritating the digestive tract. Or add a pinch (progressing to 1/2 teaspoon) of cayenne powder to 1 cup of boiling water, along with a squirt of lemon juice, and let sit five minutes. Drink two or three times a day.