But indulging in the whole pepper, rather than an extract in a capsule, may be a different stories. Studies have shown that the capsaicin, another chemical in chili peppers, can rev up your metabolism and thereby help you lose weight. Chilies also act as a natural blood thinner, they help release endorphins (which boosts mood), and they’re a low-fat, low-cal way to boost flavor in food. They’re also rich in infection-fighting beta-carotene.
Even if you're not a fan of super-fiery food, you can enjoy the taste and health benefits of chilies. Try jalapeños, which are medium-hot. When smoked and dried, they’re known as chipotle, which is also a great in all sorts of chili pepper recipes. And you can reduce the heat of fresh jalapeños by removing the ribs and seeds before adding them to recipes.
Or try cooking with moderately mild poblano peppers. Use them fresh, or use the dried, ground version called ancho. Also, consider supplementing your milder pepper recipes with red, orange, and yellow bell peppers, which are also mild. They complement chilies well and are bursting with antioxidants. For more information on chili varieties, check out this handy chili pepper primer.
For chili recipes that pack a healthy punch without packing too much heat, consider these mild but extremely tasty dishes from the Rodale Recipe Finder.
#1: Texas Beef Soft Tacos. Enjoy the benefits of sweet red bell peppers and smoky chipotle peppers in this yummy taco dish.
#2: Santa Fe Vegetable Chowder. This mildly spicy seasonal soup is packed with healthy peppers ranging from red bell peppers to poblanos to ground anchos (dried poblanos).
#3: Mexican Stuffed Peppers II. To prepare this dish, stuff large poblanos with brown rice, corn, pine nuts, and cheese. Umm-hmm.
#4: Spicy Baked Chicken with Squash and Walnuts. Perfect for fall, this tasty chicken dish features ground anchos, which taste a little like paprika.
#5: Santa Fe Turkey Pizzas. These Southwestern-flavored pizzas are topped with ground turkey and sweet red bell peppers—and a healthy dose of pickled jalapeños.