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3 spicy food recipes to heat up your health

Published On: Feb 11 2013 10:37:36 AM CST   Updated On: Feb 25 2013 10:49:30 AM CST
Hot peppers


By Nathan, Pure Matters

I’ve been a longtime advocate for spicy food. Whenever it gets cold, pho, is my go-to comfort food. You’ll find this beef soup at any good Vietnamese restaurant -- the broth lovingly prepared over a 12-hour period. And after you doctor it with a bracing mixture of crushed red pepper, Sriracha hot sauce, razor-thin slices of bright jalapeños, and a spray of fresh lime, it’s spicy, unctuous culinary perfection. And whenever I fall ill, I always cook up a massive pot of Mexican chicken soup, fortified with a hearty dose of serrano chilies.

I love spicy food because it feels curative.  It originates in hot climates because eating it can cause you to sweat, which cools the body.  When you’re sick, it flushes out your sinuses, boosts your metabolism, and simply makes you feel better–a sensation anchored in the fact that ingesting spicy food increases serotonin production.

Turns out, that’s merely the beginning of its health benefits. Capsaicin, an element found in most chilies, has been associated with lowered instances of bad cholesterol in a 2012 study on hamsters by the American Chemical Society. The American Association for Cancer research also links capsaicin to killing some cancer and leukemic cells and slowing the growth of tumors. It also boasts high levels of vitamins A and C, fights inflammation, and increases blood flow throughout the body. It’s also a common active ingredient in topical skin rubs for arthritis and muscle fatigue.

Other spices commonly integrated into spicy Asian dishes have demonstrated similar health-positive benefits. Turmeric, for example, has been linked to prostate cancer prevention, reductions in childhood leukemia, and as an anti-inflammatory.  Other spices like coriander (or cilantro) can deliver a host of vital daily vitamins like folic acid, vitamin A, beta carotenes, and vitamin C, and has been linked to increases in good cholesterol.

In my pursuit of spreading the good word of spicy foods here are three dishes from different cultures synonymous with heavenly spicy food. Each includes a link to an easy-to-make recipe. To make it more spicy, leave in the pulp and seeds; to mellow it out, remove those elements for the peppers, or counteract the heat with sugar or lime juice

Mexican Chicken Soup with Lime and Corn
Dominant Spice: Mexican jalapeños or seranno chilies, cumin, fresh cilantro
This is my go-to head cold cure. I amp the spiciness up by adding an extra pepper or two, sometimes double the broth, and cut the amount of corn in half to avoid excess starch.  The smell of the soup as it cooks will clear your sinuses before you try it. Add some slices of ripe avocado at the end, and sub chicken breasts for the thighs if you want to go healthy.

Thai Beef Salad
Dominant Spice: Thai chilies, toasted cayenne pepper, fresh cilantro and mint
A great dish for the warmer weather, I like to pair this with some fresh jasmine rice to dip into the dressing (a dizzying sweet/sour/hot combo of Thai fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, and spices). And don’t underestimate the spiciness of the Thai chilies -- they’re small, but they pack a punch.

Lamb Vindaloo
Dominate Spice: Dried Indian serrano chilies, peppercorns, coriander, cumin
This curry dish from central and southwestern India should always register high on the heat scale, and is typically served with rice and a cool yogurt riata with sliced tomatoes or cucumber. Most restaurants overload the dish with space-filling potatoes, and cook with a lot of oil. Cooking it at home assures you avoid those pitfalls.



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