Here’s How Spicy Food Impacts Your Digestion

Updated on December 6th, 2020
Is Spicy Food Bad For Your Digestion

It’s pretty wild how a straight dash of cumin, chili flakes, or another spice can transform a dish, taking it from bland to a flare-up of excellent flavor. But many individuals have a love-hate association with spicy food. The flavor? That’s the taste right there. But the stomach problems that sometimes come after? Not very much.

To help you understand more about how spice affects your digestive system and whether it’s time to lean in and give it up for good or embrace spicy food, we wrote this write-up by reaching out to our experts.

Defining Spices

First, a seemingly straightforward question: What is a spicy food? The answer to that is complex since “spicy” is a relative term. Peppermint toothpaste can burn some palates, while other people can take Thai peppers straight from the vine without much thought.

Many hot spices are extracted from a chili or pepper plant, though few roots like ginger are also spicy, and so are some plant leaves, like mustard leaves. We include these spices into our foods in cooked, raw, ground, and dried form.

One general spice some people think of as hot, curry, is a combination of multiple spices, including curry plant leaves, chili, and ginger.

Most people associate spicy food with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). But various other foods are worse gastric irritants, including alcohol, caffeine, and acidic citrus fruits. If you experience digestive uneasiness after eating spicy foods, you might be reacting to something other than the spice in your dinner.

Mexican foods often use pepper and chili in their recipes, but your stomach could be reacting to fat from butter or cheese-based sauces. The lemon in a chicken piccata dish or an acidic, tomato-based pasta sauce could be eating away at your digestive tract lining.

Is Spicy Food Bad For Your Digestion?

Digging into spicy food isn’t necessarily worse for digestion. Still, experts say it can pose problems and trigger symptoms among people with digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), acid reflux,  and IBD (inflammatory bowel disease).

Put simply: Spicy foods don’t usually trigger a digestive problem, but they may aggravate these disorders [1].

Because every individual’s gut health is unique, spicy foods can cause one individual to have a stomach upset and leave other people feeling okay. If you already have IBS or reflux, then typically, spicy foods can cause you to feel more uneasy and kick-start your usual symptoms, such as frequent trips to the bathroom [2]

Nutritionists raise a pertinent point, telling us that sometimes it’s not the spice that causes the digestive problems, but the other foods you’ve taken in that same meal. If you have a double cheeseburger with hot sauce and French fries, the digestive symptoms may be due to the meal’s overall fat content, not the spicy part.

Taking hot wings can trigger digestive distress due to the fried wings, not the hot sauce. 

[Also Read: Digest Foods to Reduce Indigestion]

Can Spicy Food Be Healthy?

Most spicy foods are loaded with nutrients and offer plenty of nutritional benefits. For instance, chili peppers are an excellent source of vitamin E, along with vitamin B6, vitamin A, vitamin K, fiber, and iron. Meanwhile, spices like turmeric, chili, black pepper, and cayenne are known to have anti-inflammatory effects.

If you relish the taste of spicy food and it doesn’t bother your stomach, experts say there’s no reason to turn away from them. Understand that the heat, sweat, or slight tingle on your nose is not the same as digestive problems and is a common issue with spicy foods.

It is all about personal choice here on whether spicy foods belong in your food regimen or not. 

Most chili peppers also contain a compound called Capsaicin that reduces pain and inflammation, among other health advantages. Capsaicin has also been proven to help lower the risk of heart disease by lowering your LDL (or bad) cholesterol and regulating blood pressure. 

Of course, you’ll want to be aware of your food preferences and not assume you’re receiving nutritional benefits just because your food has spices. Consuming hot wings won’t influence weight loss despite the Capsaicin.

[Read: Health Benefits of Spicy Food]

Should People With Certain Digestive Disorders Avoid Spicy Food?

You may have an issue with spicy food if you have a gastrointestinal disorder like IBD or IBS, but this certainly doesn’t mean anyone with stomach problems needs to skip every kind of spicy food forever. It is advisable to eliminate spicy foods from your diet and then monitor your tolerance as you reintroduce them.

You don’t want to avoid foods unnecessarily if you’re not reacting to them.

Instead of trying to handle a possible food intolerance on your own, it’s essential to see a gastroenterologist or registered dietitian, or another medical practitioner for guidance on elimination diets and digestive issues.

If you’re experiencing vomiting, bloating, diarrhea, and other uncomfortable problems after eating spicy foods but don’t have any known gastrointestinal issues, It’s essential to get evaluated to make sure something more serious isn’t going on.

These practitioners know the ins and outs of digestive disorders and are skilled in getting to the root of your issue, ultimately finding a solution to make you feel great.

If you are experiencing gut-related problems every time you take spicy food, this could lead to other health disorders, so don’t procrastinate getting in touch with a physician for treatment.

If you have an illness like IBD or IBS and spicy foods are a known trigger, then taking them regularly could cause increased symptoms, like diarrhea, causing other health problems, like dehydration. 

[Also Read: The Ultimate Shelf Life Guide to Spices]

Bottom Line

Suppose you don’t have any existing digestive problems. In that case, the spice is most likely a superbly agreeable component to your diet—if you like the way it tastes and if you don’t experience any stomach problems after eating it, of course.

But if you have a digestive disorder like Crohn’s disease, colitis,  acid reflux, or IBS, you may notice that spicy food makes your symptoms flare. In that case, experts agree it’s best to skip spicy food.

Suppose you find spicy foods to give you indigestion because you are nauseous, burping,  constipated, gassy, or have diarrhea after taking spicy foods. In that case, you must listen to your body and avoid having them.

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