Good Habits #11 – How to Obtain Good Health By Setting Your Brain On Fire

Back in 1996 (I’m giving away how old I am again), I was at a friend’s house watching the opening ceremony of the Olympic games.  At some point during the night, one of her vixen girlfriends tricked me into eating a hot pepper.  Since I was always willing to show off (read: make a fool of myself) for the young ladies in my younger years, I stuffed the thing into my mouth.  I’d been known to scarf Jalapenos.  How bad could it be?

That night, I learned the hard way what a Ghost pepper is.  The thing was so hot I nearly vomited.  I didn’t swallow it, obviously.  I spat it out and then I spent several hours eating huge hunks of bread, drinking milk, and doing anything I could to get the horrible burning out of my mouth.  

Despite this early life scarring, I’ve nevertheless learned that it can be good to incorporate hot things into my diet.  I’ve discovered that not only does the flavor often cover up for my mediocre cooking skills, it’s also a good way to add some nutrition without too many calories.  Far better than, say, dousing food in sauce or cheese.

So let’s start with the normie, basic beeyotch of peppers.  The thing drunks and college students (but I repeat myself) like to fill full of cheese and fry and then wolf down while inhaling vast quantities of alcohol.  The latter of which is a habit you should try to avoid if you’re losing weight.  The spicy green pepper originally from Vera Cruz, one of the most scenic cities on the Gulf of Mexico.  And that is…the aforementioned Jalapeno pepper.  

A single Jalapeno will provide about 20% of the vitamin C recommended daily allowance, along with a bit of vitamins B6 and A.  This may not seem like much, but it only has 4 calories.  So you’re getting bang for your buck.  Now, obviously, with peppers the “bang” part can be a problem. 

Fortunately, there is a method for measuring the heat:  The Scoville scale.  I have no idea who Scoville is (or where, for all I know it’s a city somewhere) and don’t really care.  I mean, when’s the last time you cared who Fahrenheit was?

What you need to know is that the Scoville scale is a scale which shows how unwise it is to eat a particular pepper, ranging between “No Problem” and “Hold My Beer” in terms of how foolish of a risk you’re about to take.   Jalapenos rate between 2,500 and 8,000 Scoville.  Which isn’t bad relative to most other peppers.

Another common pepper eaten by drunks and college students (I know.  Redundant) is the Pepperoncini.  The thing we used to get with every Papa John’s pizza we ordered.  The pepper so Italian that it’s…actually from Asia.  Just like pasta, I guess.  Somebody really needs to tell the Italian imperialists to stop culturally appropriating.

Anyway, these have a small chunk of vitamins A and C, along with a bit of calcium and iron as well.  And like the Jalapeno, only a handful of calories.  And the Scoville rating for these is only about 300 to 500.  Which is a joke.  Anyone can handle that.

Then there are Cayenne peppers, the Cajun pepper that’s in no way Cajun.  Because it’s actually from French Guiana.  Although I guess it’s not surprising that the French would have sent a few to New Orleans.  Before we bought it, I mean.  Honestly, we have to admit that colonization did produce a few side benefits.

One of these peppers will provide about 5% of the RDA of vitamin A, and also carries only a pittance in terms of calories.  But there is a somewhat higher cost in terms of foodie self-harm.  The suicide (Scoville) rating is between 30,000 and 50,000.

Next, we have the pepper from Africa, from a country neighboring my wife’s home of Zimbabwe.  The Peri Peri pepper, which has spread around the world as the result of both Portuguese and British colonization.  It’s awesome.  I’m convinced that the number of European empires that were involved in obtaining a pepper increases it’s awesomeness. 

Peri Peri also has a little bite to it. This twice colonized hot pepper that’s originally from Mozambique rates between 50,000 and 75,000 Scoville.  So it’s a bit more dangerous than the not-at-all-Cajun Cayenne pepper.  Sadly, though, I couldn’t find nutritional information for the pepper itself.

Fortunately, there is another way to ingest this pepper, originating from another country bordering my wife’s home country: South Africa.  The sauce made by the South African chicken chain, Nando’s.  A restaurant which, sadly, is only available in certain limited markets in the U.S. (like D.C. and Chicago) but whose epic Peri Peri sauce is available in various grocery chains throughout the country.  And on Spaceman Skeletor‘s website.  A mere two tablespoons of Nando’s sauce will add considerable flavor to even the blandest of dishes (like most of mine), and also has 10% of my vitamin A, C, and D requirements for the day.  At a cost of only 30 calories.  There are a lot of reasons I’m thankful I met my wife, and exposure to this is high on the list.

All of these peppers are relatively mild, though. The next one on my list requires a bit more foodie heroism (or foodie folly) to attempt to eat: the Habanero pepper. This one comes from Cuba, the land of mojitos and cigars and political oppression. Fortunately, we were able to liberate many of them from Cuba before the communists took over, so they’re readily available in countries where you have the freedom doing stuff like wasting your time saying stupid nonsense on the Internet. As I do. On this blog.

The pepper that we libred from Cuba will give you 7% of the RDA of vitamin C, and only contains 5 calories.  Heatwise, it’s fairly dangerous, with a 125K to 325K Scoville rating.  For the orange kind.  Other variants, such as red, are apparently deadlier.  By eating those kinds you’re just letting Che Guevara and Fidel Castro get revenge on the free world from beyond the grave.  So I’d steer clear of those.

Next on the list is the Scotch Bonnet pepper.  Which is from Jamaica.  Not sure how the Scots got involved in the equation.  It’s not even remotely Scottish.  My distant Scottish kin and ancestors created many great things (the telephone, the steam engine, the television, penicillin, the United States Navy, etc.), but they’re not known for great innovations in the area of cuisine. 

This non-Scottish pepper is a bit more nutritious than many of the others I’ve covered.  It provides 10% of the vitamin A RDA, and over 100% of the vitamin C.  At a cost of 20 calories, which is higher than the others so far, but still barely worth mentioning.  Sadly, the Scoville rating is high.  It’s about the same as Habanero, with a 125K to 325K rating.  So I guess this pepper is more like Edward the Longshanks getting his revenge on William Wallace from beyond the grave.

And last on my list of hot peppers is the pepper that ruined my night during the 1996 Olympics, the Ghost Pepper. Which is from India.  Where it’s called Bhut Jolokia.  Which is an appropriate name, because it’s an approximation of the sounds your digestive tract makes when you eat too many of them.  These are relatively heavy on nutrition.  They’ll provide all of your Vitamin C and A requirements for a day, and only contain 20 calories.  There is a downside, which you should have figured out from the anecdote at the beginning of this piece.  The Scoville rating is over a million.  That little minx from my college days tricked me into eating something with a rating over two hundred times higher than a Jalapeno.

But peppers aren’t the only way to turn your brain into tapioca with excessive heat.  There are a couple of other ingredients that provide food-induced masochism that I can think of.  Such as that plant that dates as far back as ancient Greece.  The horseradish.  It’s not a pepper, so it doesn’t have a Scoville rating.  But it’s still pretty intense.

Horseradish is one of those things that people assumed had medicinal value, presumably because eating it can be a painful process so therefore it must have healing properties.  Wisdom of the ancients, I suppose. I guess we’ve always assumed that medicine has to be horrible in some way. But it kind of does have healing properties.  It has small bits of folate and vitamin C.  I guess the latter bit explains how the native Americans were able to use it to stave off scurvy.  And a tablespoon of this only has 7 calories, which is not bad at all.  

And lastly, I have to mention the thing I was exposed to when my overly bourgeois friends force me to eat sushi. Wasabi. The green paste, not the root it draws its name from. The one thing that I ever ate that actually made my feel like my brain was on fire. This green substance (made from a hyper-potent Japanese variant of horseradish) seems to be what you get when you combine cuisine with the ancient Bushido ritual of Seppuku. It’s beyond “Hold My Beer” levels of risk taking. It’s more like foodie kamikaze. But, it has a variety of nutrients. So if you’re feeling daring, or have grown tired of living, this is a reasonably healthy way to spice up a meal.

Of course, I don’t want to leave my friends of lesser palates (I.E. lightweights who are scared of spicy food) out in the cold.  There is a pepper for you if you don’t like taste and flavor and other nonsense.  Bell peppers.  They have decent nutrition, although it appears to vary depending on the color.  They have 5-20% of the RDA of vitamins A and C in a small serving, say, a tablespoon.  So for those of you needing the nutrition without the hardcore gumption to dare the dizzying heights of the Scoville cliffs, these are an option.

It’s good to add some hot stuff to your meals. Particularly for me, since my Scottish ancestors imbued me with genes that produce inherently bland food. Hardly surprising from a group known for making gross food from entrails. Adding some peppers or other hot things can make otherwise inedible things edible. And add some much needed micronutrient type thingies.

There is a potential downside though. Too much hotness can have…digestive consequences. Eating overly hot food tonight can cause you to spend a disproportionate amount of time on the toilet the next day. Which can be embarrassing when you’re at work, since all of your pals will walk in and smell (or worse, hear) the results of your spicy food adventurism.

But, overall, it’s good to explore the treacherous, craggy reaches of the high Scoville foods.  They’ll add some useful nutrition to your diet, and make the food noticeably less bland.  So go ahead and climb these spicy mountains.  Just maybe not the equivalent of Mount Everest.  That might have you stinking up the office bathroom the following day.  And getting you publicly humiliated in front of your colleagues.  And maybe fired.  Justifiably.

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Published by drilldowndiet

Formerly obese CPA/health humorist using Cronometer and FitBod to lose weight. Sharing assorted life hacks to squeeze nutrition and exercise into a busy schedule. Also on Twitter at @drilldowndiet and Facebook.

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