Spicy food: Is it good or bad for you?

Lheny’s favorite Pinoy sawsawan (dipping sauce) is not complete without chopped siling labuyo (small chili pepper). Whenever she’s invited to house gatherings or parties by family and friends, she always checks if there’s something spicy on the table. Not a week goes by that she doesn’t eat something that makes her tongue burn.

Spicy dishes are popular in many cuisines around the world. In the Philippines, the Bicol region is noted for its classic dishes with siling labuyo and gata (coconut milk). Well-loved spicy Bicol delicacies include Bicol Express, Laing, Kinunot, and Sinantolan. They even have siling labuyo ice cream. 

Although Filipino cuisine is not primarily spicy, many Filipinos have developed a fondness for dishes with a zingy kick. Many modern fast-food chains have adjusted to the evolution of Filipino taste buds by adding spicy food items to their menu, from burgers to chicken. The popularity of K-culture (Korean culture) is also another reason Pinoys enjoy hot and spicy food such as kimchi, jjamppong (seafood noodle soup), and tteokbokki (rice cakes in chili sauce). There was even a viral social media spicy noodle challenge where people filmed themselves eating a serving of Samyang’s Buldak-Bokkeum-Myeon (Fire Noodles). 

With the rising penchant for spicy food, there is a debate about its impact on health which leads to the big question, is spicy food good or bad for you? Doctor Willie Ong, an internist and media personality in the Philippines shared on his vlog that spicy food may be good for some people, but it may be bad for others. 

What happens when you consume spicy food?

Capsaicin is the chemical component of chili peppers that give them a kick. According to Doctor Ong, when you eat spicy food, the TRPV1 or capsaicin receptor on the surface of your tongue and throughout the digestive tract sends a signal to your brain that you are feeling heat and pain. This is why the body may go through any or a combination of the following reactions as it tries to cool itself down.

  • Burning sensation 
  • Sweating
  • Runny nose
  • Redness of the face and hands
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased temperature
  • Hiccups
  • Heartburn
  • Upset stomach – cramping, indigestion, and diarrhea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain

What are the potential benefits of eating spicy food?

Eating spicy food can give several potential benefits for your health. 

  • Boosts metabolism – According to WebMD, capsaicin can raise your metabolic rate and promote weight loss. It can increase the number of calories you burn and help you feel full.
  • Improves mood – Adding heat to your meal may improve your mood. Capsaicin has been shown to increase the release of endorphins, and promote feelings of pleasure, as per Healthline.
  • Enhances cognitive function – Capsaicin may improve memory and attention and it may also help to protect the brain from damage.
  • Increases immunity – Capsaicin has been shown to have antimicrobial properties, which may help to boost immunity. Spicy foods are also often rich in vitamins and minerals that are essential for immune system function.
  • Reduces risk of heart disease – According to Cleveland Clinic, eating dishes with a kick may help improve heart health. Some studies show that capsaicin may improve blood flow, lower bad cholesterol / LDL and triglycerides, and help prevent blood clots from forming. 
  • Reduces inflammation – Capsaicin is noted for its inflammation-fighting properties. It can fight low-grade inflammation in the gut which is linked to obesity. 
  • Pain management – There’s a capsaicin cream that can be used as a pain reliever for headaches, arthritis, neuropathy, sciatica, and fibromyalgia.
  • Lowers risk of cancer – Some studies reflect that eating spicy food may reduce the risk of certain cancers such as prostate cancer.

Who should avoid or limit their intake of spicy food?

Individuals who have any of the following health issues are discouraged from eating spicy dishes.

  • Hemorrhoids – Spicy food can irritate hemorrhoids and make them more painful.
  • Anal fissures – Fiery dishes can irritate the small tears in the lining of the anus and aggravate pain and bleeding with bowel movements.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – Spicy food can worsen the symptoms of IBD, such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, and bleeding.
  • Acid reflux (GERD) – Spicy food can irritate parts of the esophagus, which can worsen symptoms of acid reflux.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – Food with a kick can trigger IBS symptoms, such as gas, bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.

Should you spice up your meals?

Eating spicy food in moderation can be a part of a healthy diet, but it is important to be aware of the potential risks and to control your intake if you experience any negative side effects. However, if you have hemorrhoids or any of the other conditions mentioned above, it is best to avoid spicy food to prevent your condition from worsening.

Sources:

WebMD
Healthline
Cleveland Clinic
Doc Willie & Liza Youtube Channel
University Hospitals
AACR Journals

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