Is spicy food good for you?
Some are quick to assume spicy foods are at the root of all our gastrointestinal issues – but is that really the case? Can spicy food actually be good for you?
Ultimately, the answer is yes; spicy foods are good for you!
Capsaicin is the main chemical compound found in peppers that give them their unique and identifiable spicy flavor. It binds to the pain receptors on the tongue and digestive track, causing the uncomfortable sensation throughout the body. While the controversial ingredient may cause short-term distress, it’s great for contributing to long-term health and pain relief.
A recent study conducted in four countries found that people who regularly consume spicy food have a 12% lower risk of dying from common health conditions compared to those who ate spicy food less than once per week. This same study also showed a significantly reduced risk of death from heart disease in the regular spicy food eaters.
While the study’s results are encouraging for your heart and overall health, the data shows associations are not a cause-and-effect relationship. The foods you choose to eat along with chili peppers also make a difference. I recommend sticking to poultry, fish, lean meats, beans and vegetables with those chili peppers to optimize health.
Here are answers to some common questions I hear about spicy food.
If spicy food is so great, why does it cause stomach pain?
This can be traced back to capsaicin. While it is the naturally occurring compound in peppers, it can cause your stomach to be upset when latching onto the pain receptors close to the stomach lining.
Should I avoid spicy food?
If you have a preexisting gastrointestinal issue like acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease, I recommend that you stay away from spicy food because it can aggravate these issues. However, each person has a unique digestive track so different foods can trigger different people.
Will spicy food cause ulcers?
Spicy food can’t cause ulcers — they may prevent them by inhibiting acid production in the stomach. However, if you already suffer from ulcers, spicy food may aggravate this condition.
What other health benefits can spicy food have?
Chili peppers are a great source of vitamin C, B6 and potassium. They are also naturally low in carbs, fat and sodium.
As always, it’s important to remember to partake in this fun ingredient in moderation — luckily, only small amounts of hot chili peppers are needed to turn up the heat for your overall health.
If you are having continued gastrointestinal issues such as bloating, vomiting or diarrhea, it’s important to consult with a registered dietitian.
Find ways to spice up your life with recipes like this!
Heather Klug is a registered dietitian at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center.
About the Author
Heather Klug, MEd RD is a registered dietitian and cardiac educator at the Karen Yontz Women's Cardiac Awareness Center inside Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee, WI.