Capers are small flower buds from the Capparis shrub, grown in the Mediterranean. Usually pickled, they’re a versatile ingredient, great for adding a distinctive sour and salty flavor to many dishes.
Different varieties have different properties, but they all come with many health benefits, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-diabetic effects, and they have been used for these purposes for thousands of years.
Capers are low in calories, sugar, and fat, but are a great flavor enhancer for many dishes. One thing to be aware of is that many manufacturers use brine or pack capers in salt, making them high in sodium. You can reduce the salt content by soaking the capers in water for 15 minutes, then rinsing them. Raw capers, however, are much healthier, though they can be extremely bitter.
Despite the small size of capers, they provide an unexpectedly large amount of antioxidants. When eaten in dishes with red meat, they may even reduce the production of negative byproducts and help prevent cell damage and reduce the risk of some cancers. Studies have concluded that capers contain "volatile" and "non-volatile" compounds which potentially can play an important role in colon cancer prevention.
Flavonols have been shown to be linked to lower rates of Alzheimer's among elderly people. Capers are high in the flavonol kaempferol, which. when ingested in higher amounts, can give its users a 50% lower rate of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Quercetin is another flavonol prominent in capers, and while intake of quercetin is not associated with a lower rate of developing Alzheimer’s disease alone, it provides many other benefits. Studies have also been carried out on rats with Alzheimer's disease, and caper fruit and bud extract were shown to block the production of two enzymes that cause Alzheimer's and cognitive damage.
Studies have linked capers to cardiovascular health. One study identified that a compound in pickled capers activates potassium channels that regulate the activity of the heart and brain. Caper fruit extract can also be beneficial to heart health, with some people using it as a medicine.
Scientists have found that caper fruit extract helps prevent increased risks of cancer and heart disease, even when used in the smallest amounts.
Capers are rich in many vitamins and minerals, the highest of which is perhaps quercetin, which many people take for issues including heart problems, lowering blood pressure, prostate infections, prevention of upper respiratory infections, allergies, and more. Capers are also high in vitamins A, E, manganese, niacin, and calcium, making them a great addition to your diet.
Different parts of the caper plant are used for different things. The root and bark are useful for gut health, to help treat constipation and stomach disorders. Scientists have also investigated the possibility that caper leaves can block several types of bacteria that can cause gut infections.
There isn't enough evidence to say that capers alone can reduce blood sugar levels in diabetics, but there is evidence that they can increase sugar breakdown and insulin sensitivity. They may also reduce sugar uptake in the gut, so they may be beneficial for people who are pre-diabetic.
A small clinical trial of eight people suggests caper bud extract could ease skin inflammation caused by histamine, a hormone that causes allergic reactions. Some people also use caper fruit extract applied to the skin. There is little evidence to show that this has any anti-allergy effects, but it has been shown to prevent skin inflammation caused by UV light.
Arthritis causes inflammation in the joints, destroying the cartilage over time. In a study in cartilage cells exposed to an inflammatory protein, caper bud extracts blocked molecules that worsen inflammation: nitric oxide, mucopolysaccharides, prostaglandins, and free radicals. Capers also appear to lessen the symptoms of other inflammatory conditions, such as gout.
Capers have been linked to a reduction in liver disease severity. Scientists conducted a clinical trial of 44 people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, who consumed 40–50g of caper berries each day for 12 weeks. The results showed that disease severity was reduced and the two enzymes that are markers of liver damage — ALT and AST — were reduced also.
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