Harvard Health Letter

Hot stuff has the right stuff

According to the Department of Agriculture, Americans are eating 38% more chili peppers than they were in 1996. Per capita, Americans eat more chili peppers (5.9 pounds) than asparagus (1.3 pounds), cauliflower (2.2 pounds), or green peas (3.3 pounds).

Even without these statistics, it's been obvious that chili peppers have caught on. Every day seems to bring a new variety of salsa to the supermarket shelf. Chips and salsa, which most Americans used to eat only in Mexican restaurants, are a mainstream snack, as unremarkable as potato chips or crackers.

Trends in American eating habits are usually nothing to celebrate, but the popularity of the chili pepper may be a happy exception. For one thing, it shows that Americans are rejecting blandness for more exciting flavors. In a small way, it's evidence of the manifold influence of the country's immigrant population. And nutritionally, chili peppers tot up on the asset side of the ledger. Gram for gram, they contain more calcium and vitamin A and C than asparagus, celery, and green peas (cauliflower, alas, has a slight vitamin C edge but trails in calcium and vitamin A).

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