Dial Up the Heat for Heart Health

Dust off the crockpots and pressure cookers, with a nip in the air, it’s time to start thinking about making comfort foods like soups, stews and chili.  Many of these dishes might sound heavy or rich but with a few adjustments, they can be heart healthy, especially if you add a bit of spice.  According to research, hot peppers may help protect your heart from high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Hot peppers contain capsaicin that, along with being associated with relieving arthritis pain when added to creams and ointments, has also been linked with a reduction in blood pressure, high cholesterol and the formation of blood clots.   Research from the Chinese University of Hong Kong found that capsaicin lowers blood cholesterol levels and blocks a gene that makes arteries contract which can hinder blood flow resulting in heart attack and stroke.

Hot peppers not only promote healthy circulation, they may also lower inflammation, contain anti-cancer properties and boost the metabolism which may aid in weight loss.  Research by the Harvard School of Public Health, using the 2015 longevity study, found that people who ate spicy foods nearly every day were 14 percent less likely to die prematurely.  Consuming spicy foods just twice a week lowered the risk by 10 percent.   

Next time you are whipping up a batch of your famous chili, consider turning up the heat with some peppers.  Start off with milder Jalapeño, Poblano or Serrano peppers to see how well they are tolerated, sometimes spicy foods can cause heartburn.  By cooking them in a yogurt or cream sauce, the heat can be dampened.  Habanero, Scotch Bonnet and Ghost Peppers are very hot and should be used with caution.

Here’s a good game day recipe that uses fresh Jalapeño and bell peppers. 

Tailgate Chili

  • 1 lb. 95% lean ground beef (or ground white meat chicken or turkey for a healthier option)
  • 1 medium onion (chopped)
  • 1 medium green bell pepper (chopped)
  • 1 medium jalapeño, chopped
  • 4 clove minced, fresh garlic or 2 tsp. jarred, minced garlic
  • 1 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 15.5 oz. canned, no-salt-added or low-sodium pinto or kidney beans, rinsed, drained
  • 14.5 oz. canned, no-salt-added, or, low-sodium, diced tomatoes (undrained)
  • 3/4 cup jarred salsa (lowest sodium available)


  • Spray large saucepan with cooking spray. Cook beef and onion over medium-high heat for 5-7 minutes, stirring constantly to break up beef.
  • Transfer to colander and rinse with water to drain excess fat. Return beef to pan.
  • Stir in bell pepper, garlic, chili powder, and cumin, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes.
  • Optional – serve topped with low-fat grated cheese, a dollop of fat-free sour cream, sliced avocado, snipped cilantro or chopped green onions.

Tip: if you want to dial up the heat, add 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Source:  American Heart Association