Thursday, October 4, 2012


The Indian traditional culinary preparation, "The Curry" has been ridiculed so often by those who cannot tolerate the spices contained in the product that new generation products, modified curries, are being made in many modern day homes and restaurants, which are practically bland devoid of important spices like Chilli, Turmeric, Coriander, Asafoetida etc. Is it not a tragedy that the modern day generation of youngsters born to Indian parents shy away from such traditional preparations and flock to junk foods like burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, pizza etc? It has been known for quite some time that many spices and herbs are treasure houses of many proven health protecting phytochemicals and older generation Indians and Chinese to some extent recognized the precious value of these ingredients hundreds of years ago, making their regular consumption as a part of daily diet. Chilli is a spice studiously avoided by the western population, possibly because of the "heat" it generates on the palate not generally tolerated by them. But is it not a fact that Mexican foods reputed for high pungency are popular in many parts of the world including the US and Europe and restaurant chains like Chipotle, Taco Bell etc are omnipotent by their presence every where?  Recent assertion by a group of scientists that Chilli can be beneficial in reducing body weight  through busting the belly fat and suppressing hunger significantly is bound to bring more focus on this simple spice in coming years.  

A research group in Netherlands has  recently come out with its findings on the effect of Chilli on weight reduction According to them this hot spice can work in three different ways, the ultimate effect being a net lose of body weight. They are capable of burning fat, suppress hunger pangs and boost overall calorie-burning rates in the body. It appears that the chemical capsaicin in Chilli responsible for its heat, triggers rapid secretion of the hormone adrenalin  from the glands which in turn stimulates the brain to send messages to burn fat cells selectively. Interestingly such a fat burning spree is confined to that present around the belly which was found to be burned most rapidly. Midriff fat is considered the most dangerous because it significantly increases the risk of heart disease in human beings.

Scientific evidence to support the above claims may not be very substantial but what ever data have been generated do show that there is some thing significant about the effect of Capsaicin on humans that deserves to be investigated further. For example this Chilli constituent has been found to be suppressing action of Ghrelin, a hormone known to be involved in promoting hunger which indirectly goes to show that Chilli consumption can suppress appetite. Studies with human beings who consumed Chillies before a meal showed significantly lesser appetite than normal subjects. Similarly Chilli consumption considerably rev up thermogenesis in the body and since there was no perceptible increase in metabolic activity, it is assumed that fat is being burned in preference to carbohydrates. Both these deductions may be valid and appetite suppression combined with preferential fat burning can accomplish weight reduction over a continued period of Chilli consumption. It is however not clear whether other analogs of Capsaicin like Dihydrocapsaicin, Nordihydrocapsaicin, Homocapsaicin and Homodihydrocapsaicin will also be effective in fighting obesity. The synthetic version Nonivamide is also another candidate worth testing.

Capsaicin is suggested as a supplement for aiding digestion as it stimulates production of digestive juices in the stomach besides fighting undesirable bacteria with pathogenic potential. Capsaicin is also implicated in preventing heart disease as it appears to retard blood clotting, reduce blood cholesterol and prevent hardening of arteries. But its fat busting properties are only reported now and it is theorized with some evidence that Capsaicin stimulates certain proteins that is known to break down fat while inhibiting action of other proteins that synthesize fat in the body. An imponderable factor in using Capsaicin for weight reduction programs is whether the lost weight will return once the consumption is stopped and this needs to be explored before it can become a standard diet supplement for people intending to lose weight..

Even assuming that there is adequate scientific support to the above claim, the million dollar question is how can people intolerant to Chilli heat can be made to consume the same without creating any trauma? Response to Chilli ingestion varies from person to person with some people seriously affected by even small levels of Chilli in the food. In some consumers it causes diarrhea while in others it creates intense discomfort in the GI tract. Probably technologies like encapsulation and micro encapsulation can by pass the palate reducing the intense pungency in the mouth. Organic chemists may even come out with modified Capsaicin molecules which can exert same effect as natural Capsaicin on the metabolic dynamics of human body. Another route to is to train people slowly in consuming Chilli over a period of time as there are hundreds of varieties of Chilli with varying "Scoville" score, reflecting the heat generating capacity on the tongue. Possibly those varieties with lower heat value can be made popular in the first instant among Chilli "haters" to get them acquainted with the heat properties and it is a question of time before they can be hooked on to regular Chillies.


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