Spicy food: how healthy is it really?

If you have a sensitive stomach, you should avoid extremely spicy foods when eating.

If you have a sensitive stomach, you should avoid extremely spicy foods when eating. (Source: kre_geg/Getty Images)

Chili, pepper, ginger & Co.: Many people like spicy food and season their dishes with fiery spices. Are you doing your health a favor?

Spicy should not only give dishes that certain something, but also strengthen health at the same time . But not everyone benefits from the spiciness. What health benefits spicy food has, when it is too spicy and who is better off avoiding it.

What makes our food spicy?

The spiciness comes from various spices and their ingredients in the food. Capsaicin in chili provides the fire on the tongue, while in pepper it is piperine. Horseradish and mustard contain mustard oils, ginger contains the spicy ingredient gingerol and garlic and onions get their taste pep from plenty of allicin. What’s exciting: spiciness is not a type of taste like sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami. Spicy food stimulates the heat and pain stimuli in the mouth and is therefore a pain reaction. At the same time, spicy foods stimulate blood circulation. The spicier we eat, the more painful we find it, the redder our skin becomes and the more we start to sweat.

“If you’re not used to it and eat too much of it, spiciness can even lead to spiciness shock and circulatory collapse – and then be life-threatening. This shows: spicy food in moderation is a pleasure, too much can put a strain on the body. Anyone who eats spicy food should Therefore, always pay attention to your individual sharpness limit and approach it slowly,” advises qualified ecotrophologist Brigitte Neumann from Uttenreuth.

Sharpness can be measured

Hotness is determined using the Scoville Heat Units (SHU). The lowest human perception threshold for sharpness is around 16 SHU. Sweet peppers have up to ten SHU, commercially available peppers have between 100 and 500 SHU. Tabasco sauce is grouped at 2,5500 to 8,500 SHU. The “Carolina Reaper” variety, considered the hottest chili in the world, has a value of 2,200,000 SHU. By the way: A commercially available pepper spray has a heat level of 2,000,000.

How much spiciness is healthy?

In a statement on “foods with very high capsaicin contents”, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) assumes that the spiciness that is traditionally accepted by adults in a meal is a maximum of five milligrams of capsaicin per kilogram of body weight. This would correspond to an intake of 300 milligrams of capsaicin by a 60 kilogram adult during a meal.

“If you’re not used to spiciness, it’s best to use gentler spices. Horseradish, for example, is hot, but the spiciness doesn’t stay in your mouth for too long. The spiciness of pepper also wears off after a few moments. Even people who otherwise often like mustard oils “Don’t like to eat spicy food,” explains Neumann. “It’s different with chilies and chili preparations. These burn intensely in the mouth and trigger a sensation of pain similar to the pain of a burn. The pain lasts for a relatively long time and leaves many people gasping for air.”

This is how spicy food affects the body

If you don’t overdo it with the spiciness and only season it enough to taste and enjoy it, you can benefit from a variety of positive effects on your health. As different spices can have different levels of heat, their positive effects also vary. Piperine in pepper promotes saliva flow, supports digestion and has a slightly antibacterial effect. Capsaicin in chili also promotes salivation, stimulates digestion, has a germ-killing effect and improves mood. Gingerols in ginger have a digestive effect and can be helpful against nausea, which is why they are often used against motion sickness. Spicy food can have the following health-promoting effects:

  • Spicy stimulates salivation and the flow of gastric juice, which supports (fat) digestion.
  • Spicy activates the motor skills of the stomach and intestines.
  • Hotness fights bacteria, viruses, fungi and other germs, which supports the body’s own defenses.
  • Spiciness preserves food, which delays its spoilage. A lot of spicy food is eaten, especially in warm countries, as spiciness inhibits the formation of microorganisms.
  • The vasodilating effect of spicy food improves blood circulation in the mucous membranes, which is also positive for the immune system.
  • If you have a cold or flu-like infection, spiciness, for example enjoyed in the form of a ginger tea, has an anti-inflammatory, nasal secretion-forming and expectorant effect – and can even help to open a stuffy nose.
  • Hotness stimulates energy metabolism, which can cause hot flashes and burn a few more calories. In addition, you usually eat less spicy food, which can also have a positive effect on your calorie balance.
  • In response to the painful stimulus, spiciness can stimulate the body’s release of endorphins and thus have a mood-enhancing effect.
  • Spicy food is also consumed in warm countries to promote cooling of the body through increased sweating.
  • The pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects of chili and mustard seeds are also used in heat plasters, which are often used to treat joint problems.

“Eat only enough or so little spicy food so that the food is and remains digestible and tasty. The limit is different for everyone. Some people get gastric irritations from even small amounts of chili, while for others, larger amounts of heat are good for them. The rule here is: to try it out,” says Neumann. “If it was too much: Capsaicin is fat-soluble. A few sips of milk or some bread with butter or olive oil quickly relieve the symptoms.”

Who should be careful when seasoning

Anyone who reacts to spicy food with stomach pain, heartburn, mucous membrane irritation, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or other gastrointestinal problems or even has problems with blood pressure should significantly reduce the amount or avoid it altogether. Those affected with an irritable stomach or kidney and bladder diseases should also be careful with spiciness. Even small children should not eat spicy food. Your digestive system is not yet prepared for spicy food“Finally, an important tip for preparing spicy food: Since chilies and the like cause eye irritation, you should wash your hands thoroughly after coming into contact with the spices and avoid eye contact,” advises Neumann..


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