Who knew a tablespoon of red powder could contain so much goodness? Meet paprika, the pepper-based spice that helps your body steer clear of disease.
From its discovery in the New World in the 1400s to the current use around the world of this handy ingredient, paprika has been much loved since entering the scene when explorers brought some home to Europe, Africa and Asia. Hungary currently produces what’s widely known as the highest-quality paprika, and Hungarian chefs are famous for their preparation of goulash with paprika.
Recently, it’s been found that paprika not only helps your body fight inflammation and disease in general, but it may even have specific targeting to prevent and fight autoimmune conditions and certain cancers. Read further to find out more about these breakthrough discoveries and the benefits you can reap from the popular nightshade vegetable spice.
1. Rich in Antioxidants
Perhaps the most impressive quality of paprika is the amount of antioxidant power it packs in just one serving. Peppers and products created from them have long been understood to have disease-fighting properties, due in large part to their ability to fight oxidative stress. (1)
There are many antioxidants in paprika, including carotenoids, which are found to varying degrees in different types of paprika. (2) Carotenoids are a type of pigment found in many plants that serve the body as antioxidants, preventing damage from oxidative stress (caused by an overabundance of free radicals in the body) and helping the body fight disease. These are fat-soluble nutrients, meaning they’re absorbed best when consumed alongside a healthy fat source, such as avocado.
The carotenoids commonly found in paprika are beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin and lutein/zeaxanthin. Beta-carotene is known for its ability to serve in the prevention and lowered risk of heart disease and cancer. The best-known benefit of beta-cryptoxanthin is the ability to lower inflammation in disorders such as arthritis. (3) And, of course, lutein and zeaxanthin are known for their roles in the health of the eyes, helping fight off molecules that are known to cause damage that leads to conditions like macular degeneration.
In general, vitamin A is known for the way it decreases inflammation through antioxidant properties, and since inflammation is at the root of most diseases, getting enough of the nutrient is important in living a life that’s free of disease. And that’s just one of the paprika benefits.
2. Aids in Treatment for Autoimmune Conditions
A groundbreaking study conducted in 2016 found that capsaicin, the ingredient in chili peppers and other hot varieties that provide the heat — like paprika — may have incredible power against autoimmune conditions.
These often debilitating illnesses stem from the immune system attacking the host’s body. Symptoms of autoimmune diseases affect brain, skin, mouth, lungs, sinus, thyroid, joints, muscles, adrenals and gastrointestinal tract functions. However, while autoimmune disorders are not curable, this 2016 study found that capsaicin stimulates biological reactions consistent with the treatment of autoimmune disease. This could be an incredible new body of research in the search to find ways to treat disease by dietary means. (4)
3. May Help Treat and Prevent Cancer
The capsaicin found in spicy paprika isn’t useful in treating just one type of disease — it also has great potential in treating and/or preventing cancer. Operating in several different mechanisms, capsaicin seems to be responsible for altering signaling pathways that limit cancer growth and even suppress genes that tell tumors to increase in size. (5)
In particular, one paprika benefit may be its ability to protect against gastric cancer. A 2012 study of gastric cancer states, “Gastric cancer is the second most common cancer worldwide and the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths.” Over 80 percent of patients diagnosed with this form of cancer die within a year of their diagnoses or recurrence of the disease. (6)
The good news is that capsaicin has potent anti-inflammatory effects on the incidence of gastric cancer, as discovered in 2016 in early research out of Japan. (7)
There are many natural cancer treatments that have been effective in aiding treatment, so if you’re at risk of developing this disease, it’s wise to use paprika as one ingredient in a cancer-prevention lifestyle.
4. Potentially Useful in the Treatment of Diabetes
Like many nutrient-rich foods and spices, paprika seems to have the potential to help regulate blood sugar levels and assist in treating diabetes. When patients with diabetes consume paprika containing capsaicin, they better process the digestion and processing of sugars in the blood. In addition, women with diabetes also tend to birth babies too large for their gestational ages, and capsaicin supplementation decreases the incidence of this as well. (8)
5. Good for the Eyes
Because of the large amount of antioxidants present in this spice, such as vitamin A, lutein and zeaxanthin, it’s already clear that paprika benefits you by helping prevent diseases that damage your eyes.
In addition to these nutrients, the existence of vitamin B6 in paprika also helps keep your eyes healthy. People who consume high amounts of B6 see a slower onset of macular degeneration and other eye-related diseases, especially when consumed with large quantities of folate.
6. Keeps Your Heart Strong
Spicing up your life with paprika helps keep your heart and cardiovascular system in good shape. Vitamin B6 helps lower high blood pressure and heal damaged blood vessels. It even treats anemia by creating hemoglobin in the blood responsible for transporting oxygen through the bloodstream.
Paprika also contains capsanthin, which is touted, according to one study, as the main carotenoid in the spice. Little, however, is known about this antioxidant, especially in comparison to the other common antioxidants. As more research is done, one source found that capsanthin in paprika caused an increase in good HDL cholesterol, which is another way paprika can keep your cardiovascular system working well. (9)
What Is Paprika?
Paprika is a ground, dry spice made from the larger (and usually red-tinted) varieties of peppers in the Capsicum annuum family. This group of peppers includes the sweet bell pepper, an extremely common paprika source, as well as spicier versions like chili peppers and cayenne.
Because of the variations in pepper cultivars, paprika nutrition can be very different from product to product. However, a few things are true about paprika. First, the red varieties in particular have a massive amount of vitamin A in just one tiny serving (one tablespoon is almost ¾ of the daily recommended intake). That’s nothing to shake your head at, as the antioxidant properties of vitamin A are many.
Secondly, paprika made from spicier peppers (most often the chili pepper) includes an important ingredient known as capsaicin. This nutrient is what gives spicy peppers their heat, and when it comes to health benefits, capsaicin is a key part of paprika’s ability to prevent life-threatening diseases. However, although paprika made from bell peppers also has some incredible health benefits, there is no capsaicin in this sweet pepper variety.
One serving of paprika (one tablespoon) contains about: (10)
- 20 calories
- 3.8 grams carbohydrates
- 1 gram protein
- 0.9 gram fat
- 2.5 grams fiber
- 3,560 international units vitamin A (71 percent DV)
- 0.3 milligram vitamin B6 (14 percent DV)
- 2 milligrams vitamin E (10 percent DV)
- 1.6 milligrams iron (9 percent DV)
- 4.8 milligrams vitamin C (8 percent DV)
- 5.4 microgram vitamin K (7 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram riboflavin (7 percent DV)
- 1 milligram niacin (5 percent DV)
- 158 milligrams potassium (5 percent DV)
How to Use Paprika
Because paprika is a spice, it must be used in appropriate amounts to not overwhelm the taste buds. However, it goes far beyond the traditionally American deviled egg.
In the U.S., it’s also commonly used to season barbecue sauce, ketchup, meats and potato salad. Mexican cuisine is full of this spice in sauces, salsas and filling for items like chile relleno. It’s ordinary to roast peppers before using them to create paprika for a more smokey flavor.
Many cultures also appreciate the richness in flavor of paprika prepared in oil. This increases the heat from hot peppers and helps the body to absorb many of the antioxidants present in it. In several countries, such as Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru, cooks add it to meats and oil to ramp up the flavor profile.
Paprika is also widely used in Europe, Africa and Asia as well in a variety of dishes. Everything from seafood to rice finds itself flavored with the aroma of this pepper spice, the most famous being the goulash of Hungary.
I especially like to use paprika in my recipe for White Chicken Chili, adding a smokey quality to this winter dish high in healthy fats.
As it works well to thicken sauces and add flavor, I also use this spice when preparing Homemade Ranch Dressing. The stuff you buy off the shelf is full of mystery ingredients, but this one will have you clamoring for a salad.
History of Paprika
Until Christopher Columbus returned from the New World with his mistakenly named “peppers” (for example, the bell pepper), the people of Europe (and everywhere else but North America) had never even seen one of these curious plants that originated in Mexico. First used to decorate the gardens of European nobility, varieties of pepper eventually found their way to Turkey and, from there, to Hungary.
The word “paprika” is used in many non-English-speaking European countries to describe the pepper itself, although this is not the case in English, where it refers specifically to the red spice derived from dried peppers. According to the New World Encyclopedia, “The first note mentioning red pepper in Szeged, Hungary dates back to 1748, with the word paprika in an account book.”
Near the end of the 1800s — more than 300 years after the first pepper plant was grown in Hungary — paprika became a main part of Hungarian food preparation, although its earliest use there was for treatment of intermittent fever. Today, many claim the “best” paprika originates from the areas of southern Turkey where it’s now cultivated.
There are very few allergic reactions on record to paprika, but as with any food, allergies are a potential risk, especially in an environment where you work with and touch many different spices in short periods of time. (11) Therefore, use caution and contact your physician right away if you notice any allergy symptoms, such as swelling of the mouth or lips or contact dermatitis on your hands after eating and handling this spice.
Final Thoughts on Paprika
- Paprika is a (usually) red spice made from dried cultivars of peppers. It can be made from any type of pepper, which is why there is such a variety in the spiciness of different brands of the spice.
- This seasoning contains almost ¾ of the daily recommended value for vitamin A, along with other important antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
- Paprika has shown promise in the treatment of diabetes, cancer, autoimmune conditions and cardiovascular disease.
- Your eyes will benefit from regular consumption because of the presence of eye-protecting antioxidants and vitamin B6.
- The peppers used to create paprika originated in Mexico and were brought to Europe, Africa and Asia by explorers who found the curious plant delicious and intriguing.
- By heating it in oil, you are able to release the full flavor profile.
- This spice can be used in just about any kind of dish, from seafood to soup to rice and everything in between.