Unpacking the Myths Surrounding Spicy Food

Fire it up!

by SHFamily | Wed, March 28, 2018

We sat down with the Chief Physician of Renai Hospital, Lu Huiying, to unpack the myths surrounding spicy food.

Is spicy food bad for you? Is it bad for your tastes buds?

Recent studies show that hot chili peppers may actually protect the stomach lining and prevent gastric damage that can be associated with anti-inflammatory painkillers. They are high in nutrients such as calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin C, and there’s some evidence that hot chilies can even reduce cardiovascular disease risk, help prevent diabetes, and boost your metabolism. They may also have some ability to prevent cancer. Capsaicin has been shown to activate cell receptors in your intestinal lining, creating a reaction that lowers the risk of tumors. It is also effective against breast, pancreatic, and bladder cancer cells, although you might need to eat unrealistically large amounts of capsaicin to get such benefits (such as eight habanero peppers a week).

Additionally, capsaicin may help fight obesity by decreasing calorie intake, shrinking fat tissue, and lowering blood fat levels, as well as fight fat buildup by triggering beneficial protein changes in your body.

Spicy foods may dull your taste buds, but the condition is temporary. The chemical capsaicin (the active ingredient in spicy peppers) makes mouths temporarily go numb, and the loss of sensation gives you the impression that your taste buds must be dying. They aren’t. That numbness is your body protecting itself from pain but the effect doesn’t last.

Why do some people have a higher spice tolerance?

People who eat spicy food frequently could be desensitized to the pain. So if you'd like to build your spicy food tolerance, just eat more spicy food and eat them regularly and this will increase your tolerance slowly, over time.

Are some people allergic to spicy food?

Allergies to spices are rare but real. Various peppers, from cayenne to paprika, can cause allergic reactions. Often, the allergy is not to the edible fruit of the plant, which is used in cooking, but actually to the plant’s pollen.

What is GERD? What is acid reflux?

At the entrance to your stomach is a valve, which is a ring of muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Normally, the LES closes as soon as food passes through it. If the LES doesn’t close all the way or if it opens too often, acid produced by your stomach can move up into your esophagus. This can cause symptoms such as a burning chest pain called heartburn. If acid reflux symptoms happen more than twice a week, you may have acid reflux disease, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Are there any other foods that can induce this kind of sickness?

Dietary and lifestyle choices may contribute to GERD. Certain foods and beverages, including spicy food, chocolate, peppermint, fried or fatty foods, coffee, or alcoholic beverages, may trigger reflux and heartburn. Those people whose symptoms are associated with specific food are suggested to avoid taking it.

Should we let kids eat spicy food? Is there an appropriate age to introduce them to it?

First of all, it’s absolutely a good idea to introduce spices to babies and young children. You want to try a wide variety of herbs of spices — not only do they add flavor, but they also provide an additional punch of antioxidants.

If you look at India, the Middle East or Latin American countries, people tend to add a lot of variety to their baby food. Using a variety of spices to make food taste good will expand the child’s palate, and also cut down on the sugar and salt that we often use to make foods taste better.

But we want to be careful because some children can be more sensitive to herbs and spices. So just like any introducing other foods, wait a few days to see if there’s a reaction. Then try another.

To learn more, visit renaihospital.com