Adding Spice to your Meals and Your Health

Sometimes you can get huge benefits from small changes. For example, a recent study suggests you can reduce the risk of heart disease by eating chile peppers.

Chile peppers are a common ingredient in the Mediterranean diet but may be more important than previously considered. In a study of almost 23,000 men and women, regular consumption of chile peppers was associated with a lower risk of total death and death from heart disease independent of cardiovascular risk factors or adherence to a Mediterranean diet.

The benefits of eating chile peppers have been ascribed to capsaicin, its major pungent compound. Capsaicin can improve cardiovascular function and metabolic regulation and exert anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, but the exact beneficial action remains unknown, and none of the biological mechanisms tested could explain the health benefits. However, it is not unusual in medicine for the benefits of a substance to precede understanding how it works. For example, the health benefits of penicillin were known long before we understood how it killed bacteria.

Speaking of heart disease, I was surprised to learn recently that half of individuals in the U.S. are unaware of the constellation of common signs and symptoms of a heart attack. That’s unfortunate; prompt recognition is critical to seeking emergency care that can save a life. Delay in seeking help increases the risk of dying.

So, remember the big five: 1) chest pain or discomfort, 2) shortness of breath, 3) pain or discomfort in arms or shoulder, 4) feeling weak, faint, or lightheaded, and 5) jaw, neck, or back pain. If you experience any of these symptoms, call 911 and seek medical aid promptly. (Of course, several of these also could be indications of COVID-19.) Shortness of breath, weakness, or lightheadedness accompanied by fever may be sign of viral infection.

Don’t forget: moderation in all things, including moderation.

Don’t miss “Your Weekly Checkup” by Dr. Douglas Zipes for updates on medical breakthroughs and advice on healthy living at

This article is featured in the July/August 2020 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Featured image: Brent Hofacker / Shutterstock

Pass the Fish Tacos, Please


There’s solid proof that omega-3s support cardiovascular, cognitive, and joint health. But an important question lingers in the air: Do seafood and fish oil supplements offer equal protection?

“Fish oil supplement is not the same as eating whole fish. In fact, recent research found that omega-3s in capsule form may not provide any actual benefits to your heart health. That’s why I recommend my patients follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and consume 2 to 3 servings (8 to 12 ounces) of seafood each week,” says Dr. Lori Mosca, Professor of Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center and Director of Preventive Cardiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

Interestingly, both women and men need the same amount of fish each week to support heart health and reduce heart disease risk. One serving is about the size of the palm of your hand, says Dr. Mosca who offers these simple ideas for powering family meals with omega-3s by replacing your usual protein with fish:

Breakfast option: Top a multigrain bagel with canned tuna.

Lunch option: Fill tacos with fish, or add fish to a green salad.

Dinner option: Grill salmon, or stir fish into a pasta sauce.

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