Q. I keep reading about the health benefits of spicy peppers, but I can't eat spicy foods. Is there any way I can get these benefits without eating hot peppers?
A. Diane McKay, PhD, associate professor at Tufts' Friedman School, replies: "The purported benefits of spicy foods on atherosclerosis, cancer and energy expenditure ('fat burning') are likely due to the consumption of capsaicin, the main capsaicinoid found in chile peppers. (To date, the evidence supporting these effects is not considered clinically significant.) Capsaicin is an irritant and may cause some burning and pain when eaten. Some people are more tolerant of this than others.
"In recent years, Japanese researchers found a non-pungent variety of pepper, the CH-19 sweet pepper, that produces capsiate - a relative of capsaicin that has similar effects on fat burning in some experiments, but without the burn. For now, this pepper plant is not widely available to consumers, and the extract can be found in a proprietary dietary supplement available only through healthcare providers.
"Remember, it is always best to get your nutrients and important phytochemicals from foods (and beverages) first. And don't expect a supplement to have the same effects as a diet rich in a variety of plant-based foods and moderate in calories on managing your weight."