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Unlocking the Spice of Life: 7 Surprising Benefits of Black Pepper

Posted by Triple Naturals I On Apr 04, 2024
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A journey through time could change how you see some of the world’s oldest and most common spices, such as black pepper. Far from just being a simple seasoning to add a little flavor and heat to your next meal, black pepper has a rich past. Let’s look at the history and scientific research to uncover the surprising health benefits of black pepper and why it’s a good idea to pull the pepper grinder out of the pantry more often.

Black pepper is a popular spice that comes from a flowering vine that originated in the Western Ghats of India. The vine has green berries, which are harvested and dried. Once dried, the peppercorns can be ground up and used to season various recipes, adding a distinctive flavor, heat, and depth to dishes.

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The History of Black Pepper

Black pepper (scientifically called Piper nigrum) is a staple in most kitchens today. In fact, it’s the second most common household spice.

Yet its history is long. It was once used only by the wealthy and was highly valued. It even dictated trade routes and forged empires over 4,000 years ago as it commanded such rich prices. It was dubbed the “king of spices” and was found to be so highly valued that it could even be used as currency. The rich history highlights not just its importance in the kitchen but also offers hints about the potent potential health benefits of black peppers.

Indeed, black pepper soon traveled the world as it not only spiced up cuisines but offered healing properties. It even became an important component in Ayurvedic medicine due to its beneficial compounds.

Nutritional Profile of Black Pepper

Black pepper offers more than a way to spice up your next meal. It’s packed with vitamins and minerals like vitamins A and C, calcium, potassium, manganese, iron, and antioxidants. The real star component of black pepper is piperine. Piperine is an alkaloid that gives black pepper its characteristic sharp, pungent, hot flavor. It’s also the compound that does much of the heavy lifting when it comes to the surprising health benefits of black pepper.

Piperine has been extensively studied for its potential health benefits, especially its ability to enhance the bioavailability of various nutrients. Let’s dive into some of the most valuable potential health benefits of black pepper.

7 Health Benefits of Black Pepper

  • Digestive Health: One of the most noted effects of black pepper is its potential to fire up the digestive system. It stimulates the taste buds, alerting the stomach to increase stomach acids, which could help improve digestion. It may also help prevent gas, bloating, constipation, and other digestive woes by reducing the time food spends working its way through the gastrointestinal tract.While more research is needed, preliminary results also indicate that black pepper may act as a prebiotic to help balance the good bacteria in the gut, which is vital for healthy digestion.
  • Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Properties: Throughout your body, there are compounds known as antioxidants that fight off the bad guys—free radicals. These free-wheeling molecules are notorious for causing a ruckus, leading to what’s known as oxidative stress. That’s where black pepper may swing into action and help bring the body back to balance.Test tube studies indicate the piperine in black pepper may be a powerful antioxidant, which can act as a shield and help reduce or delay the potentially damaging effects of excess free radicals. Animal studies have also found that black pepper extract may reduce markers of free radical damage due to oxidative stress from a high-fat diet.In addition, piperine has been found to help the body fight excess inflammation and cool things down. One study found this resulted in less joint swelling in animals with arthritis. While inflammation is a normal and even healthy response to invaders, chronic or increased levels of inflammation can be an underlying issue for numerous conditions. So, if you’re living with increased levels of stress, a few extra dashes of pepper might help.
  • Brain Health: The brain can be likened to a busy city, with thoughts and signals zooming around like cars on a vast superhighway. To keep it running smoothly, you want to ensure good roads, clear signals, and minimal traffic jams. Piperine has shown some promise in keeping the roads clear, so the brain can function at high speeds.For instance, piperine is thought to potentially help boost levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. This could boost the signal strength in the brain’s communication network to help you feel more focused and mentally sharp.Piperine’s promising antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties may also help protect brain cells. Decreased oxidative damage and inflammation could help safeguard the brain’s health and help clear neural pathways. This could potentially help prevent cognitive decline.

    Other animal research indicates piperine may help the brain process information faster, improve memory, and promote concentration.

  • Weight Loss: While black pepper isn’t a magic bullet, it does have some intriguing properties that could support your weight-loss efforts. One small study with 16 adults found that drinking a black-pepper beverage (similar to flavored water) helped reduce appetite. In addition, piperine has been shown to be thermogenic. That is, it may help the body burn more calories throughout the day. So, your body works just a bit harder and uses a bit more energy, even while you’re at rest.Evidence also suggests piperine may help with the breakdown of fat cells for energy—at least in animal research. This could help reduce fat stores in the body. Similarly, according to other research, it may help reduce the formation of new fat cells (or adipogenesis). So, over time, it may help prevent weight gain by limiting the number of fat cells that can store fat. Again, the research is preliminary, but it is intriguing.
  • Blood Sugar Control: There have been some interesting animal studies that suggest the piperine in black pepper may help metabolize blood sugar. That is, when lab animals had a sprinkle of black pepper (well, black pepper extract) on their foods, they experienced smaller spikes in blood sugar after consuming glucose (i.e., sugar).What’s more, these results haven’t just been found in animals. Supplemental piperine was also found to help improve insulin sensitivity in a small study with 86 overweight individuals. In other words, they were better able to handle insulin, which is important for keeping blood sugar levels in check.
  • Cold Symptoms: No matter what time of year, colds, coughs, sniffles, and sneezes are the worst. When the cold symptoms strike, you can feel like your body is hosting an unwanted party of uninvited guests (i.e., viruses). Of course, black pepper can’t cure a cold (nothing really does), but it may help tone down some of the annoying symptoms. For instance, black pepper may act as a natural decongestant. If you’ve ever taken a sniff of black pepper and sneezed, you’ve seen the result in action. In addition, pepper may help break up the mucus and phlegm clogging your respiratory passages, making it easier to breathe. Another way black pepper helps fend off cold symptoms is by soothing sore throats. One common age-old home remedy is a mixture of black pepper and honey. The honey helps coat and calm the throat, while the black pepper may help fight off some of the germs and relieve congestion.Again, the antioxidants found in black pepper may help boost your body’s natural immune system. It may help bolster the body’s natural defense system to make the cold just a little easier to endure. Finally, black pepper may help your body warm up from the inside out. Often, with colds, you can feel chilled. Dishes made with black pepper could help you feel a little cozier, like a warm blanket.
  • Nutrient Absorption: You may have heard turmeric (and other healthy spices) work better when paired with black pepper. If you’ve ever wondered why, it’s because one of the most popular and well-documented effects of piperine is its potential to promote the absorption of other nutrients.For example, it’s been found to help increase the absorption of curcumin (the active—and powerful—component found in turmeric) by an astonishing 2,000%. Black pepper may also help improve the absorption of calcium, selenium, vitamin C, beta-carotene, and other essential nutrients and beneficial compounds, such as those found in green tea. According to research, it helps by inhibiting enzymes that metabolize certain nutrients (and some drugs), which slows their breakdown and increases absorption rates.

In addition, there are also suggestions that black pepper may help reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering high blood cholesterol levels. Other researchers have suggested that black pepper, along with other spices, may have potential antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulatory properties that lower the risk of cancer. Other animal research indicates the piperine in black pepper may help relieve pain naturally.

However, much of the promising research on piperine has been performed in test tubes or with laboratory animals, so more studies on humans are needed to confirm the many surprising benefits of black pepper.

Getting More Black Pepper into Your Diet

Incorporating black pepper into your diet is super easy and quite delicious. You’ll soon look forward to the subtle kick and warming heat that enhances your meals. Here are just a few ways to add the benefits of black pepper to your diet:

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  • Finesse with a fresh twist (of the pepper grinder, that is). Sprinkle some fresh ground pepper over your dishes just before serving. Pepper fits with just about any savory dish—soups, salads, beans, meats, chicken, seafood, eggs, vegetables, pasta, and more.
  • Slip it into a warming beverage, like tea or coffee. Black pepper in turmeric milk (aka golden milk) or even a dash in your smoothie can add an unexpected but pleasant warmth.
  • Mix into marinades, dressings, and sauces. Black pepper pairs wonderfully with lemon juice and olive oil and provides a fantastic depth of flavor for your favorite marinades.
  • Sneak into snacks. You may be surprised how grounding a sprinkle of black pepper can be on sliced vegetables and even fruits like pineapple, peaches, or mango. It’s also great on popcorn, nuts, or cheese dishes. It can liven up simple snacks with a layer of complexity you may love.
  • Balance your baked recipes (e.g., bread or even pies) with a hint of spice to balance out the sweetness, especially if they’re fruit-based.

Benefits of Black Pepper Wrap-Up

It’s clear that black pepper (and its active compound, piperine) isn’t just an everyday spice. From aiding digestion to helping make colds a little easier to bear to boosting nutrient absorption, a dash of black pepper (or a touch of piperine) sprinkles some surprising health benefits into every dish.

Of course, while black pepper has some intriguing health benefits, it’s all part of a broader picture that includes a balanced diet, regular exercise, and proper care. But hopefully, you now have a few extra reasons to grab your pepper grinder to add a spicy kick with a big dash of healthy nutrition to your next meal.

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