No one is born liking spicy foods. In fact, studies show that capsaicin, the primary component of chili that gives it the hot kick, serves as a natural plant deterrent for insect and animal consumption. This reaction allows the plant to grow and reproduce. Our bodies are also naturally programmed to avoid bitter and spicy tastes, keeping the primitive man away from many unknown and poisonous herbs and fruits.
If that’s the case, then why do so many people love eating “hot” food? Why is chili pepper the most widely used spice and condiment globally? Is it okay to eat when you have a troubled gallbladder?
The Body’s Response to Spicy Food
Contrary to popular notion, spiciness is not a taste similar to sweet, sour, salty, or bitter. Instead, it is more of a sensation. Spicy foods are also called piquant, which means a “sharp and stimulating taste.” When we eat spicy food items like chili, the pain receptors in our mouth are triggered, sending signals to the brain. These prompt mechanical, thermal, and pain reception. It’s like being pinched, burned, and cut simultaneously, causing vasodilation, sweating, and flushing. And while many people detest these feelings, some genetic, personality, and cultural factors may lead certain individuals to like piquancy.
Is there any benefit in eating chili peppers?
Chili contains a high amount of vitamin C and other vitamins such as vitamin A, vitamin B6, and vitamin K, and minerals like calcium, magnesium, folate, potassium, thiamin, iron, copper, etc. Capsaicin, its main bioactive compound, has diverse uses in pharmaceuticals that are attributed to relief of pain, anti-arthritic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-rhinitis, and analgesic properties.
Studies also suggest capsaicin may help boost the immune system to manage cardiovascular diseases, type-2 diabetes, and obesity. An experiment among elderly patients concluded that increased spicy food consumption is favorably associated with some risk factors for cardiovascular diseases. A separate study conducted in 2011 also showed that generally-accepted levels of chili in food help promote thermogenesis and fat burning while reducing preoccupation with food. Individuals subjected to spicy foods exhibited less appetite and decreased desire to consume fatty, salty, and sweet foods.
The consumption of spicy food is also reported to be related to longevity. Aside from the abovementioned properties, it is also a potent antioxidant. Therefore, chili may be a beneficial component of our daily diet.
Can I eat spicy foods if I have gallbladder issues?
Spiciness per se is not bad for the gallbladder. The problem with these types of foods is that they are also often fatty. And that’s what you need to avoid to prevent a gallbladder attack. Chili pepper also does not cause ulcers or heartburn. But if you have irritable bowel syndrome, dyspepsia, or inflammatory bowel disease, too much chili in your daily diet may worsen your symptoms.
Lastly, while spice can be exciting now and then, I strongly discourage you from doing extreme “challenges” for fun. Extremely hot varieties of chili pepper are not safe to be consumed in that manner. It may potentially put your body on overdrive, as pain receptors are fired up all at the same time. You won’t only feel your mouth burning, but your esophagus and stomach will be in agony!
So if you would like to take yourself for a little adventure, go ahead and eat some chili. But as I always say, moderation is key.
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Ludy, M. J., & Mattes, R. D. (2011). The effects of hedonically acceptable red pepper doses on thermogenesis and appetite. Physiology & behavior, 102(3-4), 251-258.
Scientific American (1999) Why is it that eating spicy, “hot” food causes the same physical reactions as does physical heat (burning and sweating, for instance)?
Spence, C. (2018). Why is piquant/spicy food so popular?. International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science, 12, 16-21.
Yu, K., Xue, Y., He, T., Guan, L., Zhao, A., & Zhang, Y. (2018). Association of spicy food consumption frequency with serum lipid profiles in older people in China. The journal of nutrition, health & aging, 22(3), 311-320.