If you’re a fan of spicy foods, then you’ve probably eaten your fair share of cayenne pepper. This pepper is considered moderately hot, and you can eat it either fresh or cooked. You can find cayenne pepper in powdered form in the spice aisle or in whole, dried form.
This spicy pepper is known for bringing the heat, but can it deliver on any helpful health benefits? We found out what it has to offer.
6 potential benefits of cayenne pepper
- provides several important nutrients (like provitamin A and vitamin C)
- contains the compound capsaicin, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects
- contains phytochemicals, including carotenoids and flavonoids
- may protect against certain health conditions
- could help you cut back on added salt
- makes an easy addition to your diet
Like other peppers, cayenne peppers are super nutritious.
However, unlike with sweet peppers, most people can handle eating only a small portion of cayenne pepper because of its spicy flavor.
Here’s the nutrition breakdown for one 45-gram hot red chili pepper:
- Calories: 18
- Protein: 0.8 grams
- Fat: 0.19 grams
- Carbs: 3.9 grams
- Fiber: 0.67 grams
- Provitamin A: 48% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Vitamin C: 72% of the DV
- Vitamin B6: 13% of the DV
- Vitamin K: 5% of the DV
Hot peppers such as cayenne peppers are good sources of provitamin A. Vitamin A exists in two forms: preformed vitamin A, which is found in animal foods, and provitamin A carotenoids, which are found in plant foods.
Hot peppers contain carotenoids like alpha carotene, beta carotene, and beta cryptoxanthin, which your body can convert into the active form of vitamin A. That’s the type you need for your immune system, cellular communication, vision, and other important functions.
Vitamin C functions as an important antioxidant in your bod and contributes to proper immune function, skin health, and neurotransmitter synthesis. Vitamin B6 is involved in nutrient metabolism, enzymatic reactions, and more.
But keep in mind that sweet peppers and many other veggies also contain these nutrients, so there’s no need to force down cayenne peppers (or any other type of hot pepper) if you don’t like the taste.
Cayenne peppers contain a plant chemical called capsaicin. It’s a group of compounds that are responsible for the spicy taste of chili peppers.
Capsaicin is best known for its pain-relieving effects when applied topically, but some studies suggest it could have other beneficial effects when you eat it.
Researchers have found that capsaicin interacts with receptors in the body and may help improve certain aspects of heart health, such as blood vessel function.
However, most human studies on capsaicin involve concentrated, high-dose supplements, which provide much more capsaicin than you’d get from eating small amounts of cayenne pepper in meals and snacks.
In addition to capsaicin, cayenne peppers contain a variety of plant compounds that may benefit your bod, like flavonoids and phenolic substances.
In a 2015 study, researchers evaluated the antioxidant activity of different peppers. They found that the Capsicum annuum group, including a type of yellow cayenne pepper, had the greatest antioxidant activity out of the pepper groups.
The study also found that fresh peppers had the highest antioxidant activity and that freezing and boiling the peppers may negatively affect their antioxidant content.
So, cayenne peppers can be a source of plant compounds that may help protect against oxidative damage, especially if you consume them raw.
But so can many other foods.
As long as you’re consuming plenty of fruits, veggies, and other nutrient-dense foods, you’ll be delivering a steady stream of protective compounds into your bod.
Some studies suggest that eating chili peppers may benefit overall health by protecting against certain health conditions.
A 2017 study that included more than 16,000 people found that those who consumed more hot red chili peppers were at a lower risk of death from all causes. Plus, the chili pepper eaters were at a slightly lower risk of dying from vascular diseases like heart disease and stroke.
Other studies have also found that chili peppers may offer some protection against death from heart disease.
Some scientists think this association may be due to chili peppers’ antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities. Those qualities may help improve certain aspects of heart health, such as blood flow.
Even though these findings are promising, no one food will significantly decrease disease risk or extend your life. It’s your overall diet and lifestyle that matter most for keeping yourself healthy.
If you’re a heavy salt user, you may want to consider swapping in a bit of cayenne on your food to help you cut back on the salty stuff.
A small 2017 study in 66 people found that adding cayenne to soup helped reduce the participants’ desire for salt and improved feelings of fullness. But it also increased their desire for sweets and fats.
Regardless, adding spices like cayenne and ingredients like fresh or dried herbs and lemon juice to your recipes may help you cut back on added salt.
If your diet is currently high in salt-laden foods like fast food and chips, consider cutting back by eating more whole foods that don’t contain added salt, such as fruits and vegetables.
Eating too much added salt isn’t good for overall health and is linked to conditions such as high blood pressure.
If you’re a fan of spice, then you’ll love cayenne peppers.
The easiest way to add cayenne pepper to your diet is to grab a bottle of the powdered kind from the spice aisle.
You can also use fresh or dried cayenne peppers in dishes such as stir-fries, marinades, and curries.
You can even add it to sweets like chocolate cake and caramel. Even a little cayenne packs a punch, so be sure to start with a small amount.
Small amounts of cayenne in its powdered, fresh, or dried form are generally safe to add to your diet.
However, there are some concerns with concentrated cayenne supplements, which some people take in an attempt to stimulate weight loss or curb their appetite. (Not a good idea, BTW.)
A 2017 study described a case in which a 21-year-old man had a heart attack after taking cayenne pepper pills that he had bought online. Other cases of heart issues after taking cayenne supplements have been reported as well.
When taken in high doses, capsaicin can lead to side effects like increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and abnormal heart rhythms, which can be dangerous. So it’s not a good idea to take high-dose cayenne pepper supplements for any reason, especially if you have any preexisting medical conditions.
If you’re interested in taking cayenne in supplement form, speak with a healthcare professional first to get the lowdown on safety and whether it’s appropriate for your specific needs.
Cayenne pepper is a well-known type of hot pepper that’s a fave flavoring agent among fans of spicy food.
Cayenne may offer a few health benefits, mostly related to the nutrients and plant compounds it contains, including capsaicin.
However, although adding a small amount of cayenne to your diet is perfectly safe, it’s not a good idea to take concentrated cayenne supplements, as these can lead to serious side effects in some people.