Used in moderation, hot spices have excellent health benefits; they can enhance the flavor of your meals, and may even help you lose weight. There are, however, some things to keep in mind if you are not used to spicy food or you want to consume large amounts.
In today’s brief article, we are going to go through five benefits of spicy food as well as five potential risks. If you don’t have time to read the whole post, feel free to skip to the summary at the end, otherwise keep reading.
5 pros of spicy food
A study conducted in China, which involved almost half a million people, showed that those who consumed spicy food more frequently — six or seven days a week — had a 14% risk reduction in mortality. In other words, they were more likely to live longer.
Although there are many factors involved, part of the reason could be that hot spices, such as cayenne pepper, black pepper, and ginger have anti-inflammatory properties: they help your body get rid of diseases, and help you concentrate and have more energy.
Many weight loss supplements contain capsaicin — an active component of chili peppers — precisely because it makes the body produce more heat. This process is known as thermogenesis, and it has been shown to boost your metabolism and burn calories faster.
Plus, eating spicy meals can help you control food cravings and suppress your appetite. When you eat spicy food, you tend to feel fuller, and don’t crave calories as much. Keep in mind, your body gradually gets used to the flavor and the effects of what you eat, so the weight loss benefits will decrease over time.
Surprisingly, when you eat spicy food your body produces chemicals like serotonin and endorphins in response to pain. These are feel-good chemicals which naturally improve your mood; if you ever notice you’re a little bit happier after a spicy meal, that’s why.
It’s also possible to “overdose” and experience dizziness and confusion (as if you were intoxicated by alcohol) after eating large amounts of hot spices, precisely because of the endorphin rush. It’s not the most pleasant feeling, so if you’re not used to spices, use them in moderation.
In response to the irritation caused by spices, your body produces extra liquids to flush them out. So if you have a stuffy nose and you are trying to get rid of mucus, eating a spicy meal may help. You may have noticed that after eating hot spices some people tend to blow their nose.
As with everything, moderation is key, so don’t overdo this (whether you have a cold or not). Eating too much spicy food will cause too much irritation which, in turn, will make your symptoms worse.
Feeling cold all the time? Eating your favorite spicy dish can help with that. Thermogenesis increases blood flow, so if during the winter months you tend to have cold hands or feet, you may notice that after eating spicy food it won’t be as bad.
Optimal blood flow is key to heart health, high levels of energy, and even concentration and focus: poor circulation can cause brain fog. While exercise and proper hydration is the best way to ensure you have optimal blood flow, adding hot spices to your meals can give you that extra boost.
5 cons of spicy food
Spicy food causes a burning sensation, so when you consume large amounts, or you are simply not used to it, it can irritate your stomach. As a result, the digestive process happens a lot faster than usual, and you may experience stomach pains or loose motions.
If you notice digestive discomfort after eating hot spices, it is recommended that you stop eating them for a while, then reduce the amount. Many people can perfectly handle spicy food in small quantities, but we are all different, so listen to your gut (literally).
Irritated taste buds
Just like spicy food can irritate the lining of the stomach, it can do the same to your tongue. While your taste bud won’t be damaged in any way, they can go numb temporarily; and over time, they can build a tolerance to spiciness and become desensitized.
If you eat large amounts of salt, then your taste buds will get used to it, and non-salty foods will feel tasteless. The same happens with hot spices, so, once again, make sure you use them in moderation, and increase the amount gradually.
Spicy foods can cause a burning sensation to the skin as well. Though you are more likely to notice the irritation inside your body (for example, in your stomach and throat), your hands may become irritated too.
If you are eating food that is very spicy, or hot spices, wearing gloves can help you protect the skin, as well as preventing eye damage if you inadvertently touch your eyes.
If you suffer from GERD or acid reflux, there are certain foods you should avoid, such as coffee, chocolate, lemons, and — you guessed it — hot spices and sauces. Capsaicin slows the gastric process, which can cause acid reflux. If you notice that spicy foods worsen your symptoms, it would be best to eliminate them from your diet.
As we’ve seen, when you eat spicy food your body releases endorphins, which can make you feel slightly euphoric. However when you eat too much, the chemical rush is overwhelming, and makes you feel dizzy; and in some rare cases, it can even cause hallucinations.
Now, unless you do anything extreme, such as a hot pepper challenge, it won’t happen; however, that’s one more reason to stay away from extremely spicy dishes. They may not make you hallucinate, but they can definitely make you vomit and feel sick.
To recap: spicy food…
- Promotes blood circulation through thermogenesis
- Boosts your metabolism and helps you control your appetite
- Makes your body release endorphins, which increase your mood
- Can quickly decongest the sinuses
- Has anti-inflammatory properties and may promote longevity
- Can cause stomach pains and loose motions
- Can irritate or desensitize your taste buds
- May cause skin rashes or burning sensations on the skin
- May worsen symptoms of GERD and acid reflux
- Can make you vomit or hallucinate (though only in extreme cases)