Do you like spicy food? The answer is one of the culinary worldâ€™s great litmus testsâ€”probably even more divisive than whether you think cilantro tastes like soap.
But no matter how many cartoon chilies you like to see on the menu next to your dinner selection, thereâ€™s a reason why you prefer your food that way.
Whatâ€™s going on? We asked some RDs to explain why some people love spicy food and others donâ€™t. (And if you love spicy foods, check out these 20 Spicy Recipes That Add a Kick to Your Meals!)
What happens to your body when you eat spicy food?
First, it helps to understand why food feels spicy: itâ€™s thanks to a class of compounds called capsaicinoids.
â€œThese compounds give peppers their heat, but when you eat any spicy pepper, your taste buds do not taste the heat from the pepper directly. Rather, you are actually tasting the sensation of heat,â€ says Jim White, RD, ACSM EX-P, and owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios.
â€œThe receptors in your mouth and tongue that sense hot temperatures and pain are the same receptors that are irritated when consuming spicy foods,â€ he explains, adding that once those receptors get irritated by the capsaicinoids, your brain thinks youâ€™re eating something hot and attempts to cool your body. â€œEven though the temperature of the chili may be room temperature, the receptors in your mouth believe it is actually heat,â€ he says. â€œFrom this, your body may start sweating to bring its temperature back down.â€
That initial tongue fire isnâ€™t the only way your body deals with hot foods. As most of you well know, that pepper is going to stay with you from the moment you put it in your mouth until the moment it leaves your body. And for some people, thatâ€™s a less-than-pleasant process.
As White explains, â€œCapsaicinoids first stimulate saliva production in the mouth. It also aggravates mucus membranes found in your nose, eyes, and throat, which can lead to watery eyes, a runny nose, and even sneezing during your meal.â€ Then the food moves into your stomach, where â€œthe capsaicinoids relax your upper stomach sphincter, which allows food to later backtrack up your esophagus.â€
If youâ€™re wondering why you get heartburn or burp like an old grandpa after you eat a spicy meal, thatâ€™s the reason. But wait, the fun isnâ€™t over yet. â€œIn addition to the possible heartburn, your stomach will also increase its production of highly acidic gastric juice,â€ says White. â€œThis increase in acidic gastric juice means that when spicy food is fully digested, it can lead to an uncomfortable burning feeling after a bowel movement.â€
Gallery: The spiciest peppers in the world (Photos Services)
Carolina Reaper (US) – 2,200,000 SHU
Trinidad Moruga Scorpion (Trinidad and Tobago) – 2,009,231 SHU
Trinidad Scorpion ‘Butch T’ (Trinidad and Tobago) – 1,463,700 SHU
Naga Viper (England) – 1,349,000 SHU
Bhut Jolokia (India) – 1,041,427 SHU
7 Pot Jonah (Trinidad) – 1,200,000 SHU
Chocolate Habanero (US) – 577,000 SHU
Scotch Bonnet Chili (Caribbean islands) – 350,000 SHU
Red Savina Habanero (US) – 577,000 SHU
Orange Habanero (Mexico) – 250,000 SHU
Rocoto (Peru) – 100,000 SHU
Piri Piri Chili (Africa) – 175,000 SHU
Tabasco Chili (Mexico) – 50,000 SHU
Jalapeno Chili (Mexico) – 8,000 SHU
Guajillo Chili (Mexico) – 5,000 SHU
Why do people like spicy food?
Despite all that, many people truly enjoy spicy food, and many are able to tolerate â€œhotterâ€ food than others. Why is that? The short answer is that everyoneâ€™s bodies and sensory perceptions are different.
As Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN of Maya Feller Nutrition, explains: â€œThe spiciness from different foods is based on the individual foodâ€™s heat index, as well as a personâ€™s individual taste receptors. So one person may be incredibly sensitive, where another finds a scotch bonnet pepper as mild as a bell pepper.â€ Cultural influence and basic personal preference also play a role. â€œPeople have likes and dislikes as well as cultural food pathways that introduce them to varying degrees of spicy foods from a young age,â€ Feller says.
Itâ€™s possible that the predilection for spice might begin even earlier than that. â€œThere is research indicating that a personâ€™s food preference starts even before you are born,â€ White says. â€œThis means the foods your mom was eating while she was pregnant and breastfeeding can also influence the foods you tend to favorâ€”such as spicy, sweet, or salty. Infant and young childrenâ€™s taste buds are also influenced by what they are exposed to at a young age. This may be why those who grew up in homes that integrate large amounts of spice in their cooking are more adapted to eating spicy food as an adult.â€
No matter how high or low your tolerance for spicy foods may be, pay attention to what your body is telling you when you eat them. Common post-meal discomforts include sweating and heartburn, and people with sensitivities need to be even more careful. â€œSpicy food can stimulate saliva and gastric juices,â€ Feller says. â€œFor people with ulcers, GERD, and a sensitive GI, this can create upset.â€
And pro tip: You might want to avoid the infamous ghost pepper altogether. â€œThere have been documented cases of people dying from consuming ghost peppers, the worldâ€™s hottest pepper,â€ White says. â€œAccording to Dr. Paul Bosland, the founder of the ghost pepper, 3 pounds of this chili can kill a 150-pound person if consumed in a short enough amount of time.â€
Video: What Happens To Your Body When You Eat Spicy Food? (Mamamia)
What to do if you eat too much spicy food
If you do find yourself in an unexpected five-alarm fire and need an immediate cool-down, White says, â€œTry eating some of the foods that bind to the capsaicin molecule, such as dairy, bread, and rice.â€ But whatever you do, remember that water is not your friend when eating spicy foods.
As White helpfully reminds us, â€œDrinking water does not help counterbalance the effect of spice and actually spreads the molecules in your mouth, making it more painful.â€
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Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are the author’s own and MSN does not endorse them in any way. Neither can MSN independently verify any claims made in the article. You should consult your physician before starting any weight loss or health management programme to determine if it is right for your needs.