Spicy foods are among the staples of numerous locals around the world. This type of food is becoming more popular day by day, as more people’s taste buds are making a right turn for the hot spicy flavors. In China, for example, the rate of increase of spicy food consumption has gone up tremendously, with the chili pepper becoming the most demanded spicy condiment (5). This increased spicy food craving has left culinary psychologists questioning the basis of this food craving. Why am I craving spicy food? Let us find out!
While some people crave something sweet, others crave something hot and spicy, like a Jalapeño Popper Burger. As we all know, it is pretty hard to resist a craving. That said, do not be surprised to find yourself driving around in the middle of the night to get yourself such a burger. But why am I craving spicy food? This is a question that bugs a lot of people.
Today we will cover the most common reasons why people crave spicy foods. We will also look at a few of the few spicy food cravings most people tend to have. Lastly, we will discuss the pros and cons of giving in to such urges. Read on to determine the effect such a craving has on your overall health.
Spicy Food Cravings
Before we look at why you might have spicy food cravings, it is essential first to know the meaning of food craving. In simple terms, a craving refers to a powerful yearning or desire for something. Most people tend to crave sweet food like ice cream and candy. However, there is another percent that craves hot and spicy foods.
Hot and spicy foods refer to meals that are prepared with spices such as peppers, chilies, cumin, turmeric, cayenne pepper, garlic, and cinnamon. Other spices can be used, but these are the most popularly used ones. These ingredients can be used to make spicy foods such as:
- A spicy shrimp pasta salad
- Spicy grilled chicken with spicy strawberry BBQ sauce
- Salsa with Serrano peppers or jalapenos
- Spicy Thai chicken coconut soup
- Spicy chicken wings
There are countless spicy food recipes that you can prepare at home or order from a restaurant. It all comes down to what food and spices you want. Whatever the case, remember to handle these spices in moderation. Some spices reign as the spiciest, and they can be too much to handle.
Why Am I Craving Spicy Foods?
Perhaps the last time you were chomping into a spicy meal, you had a runny nose while tears were falling down your cheeks. As a result of this you may have promised yourself you would never have spicy foods again. But before you knew it, you found yourself craving some spicy chicken wings or shrimp salad and were wondering why this was happening.
Science Direct acknowledges that our eating habits and behaviors tend to be strongly influenced by our social context (10). You will tend to eat differently when you are with your friends or other people than when you are alone.
The more time you spend with those close to you, the more likely you are to make dietary changes, especially if you enjoy the food. This is one reason why you could find yourself craving spicy food after coming back from your long trip or vacation.
Repeated Exposure To Capsaicin
Experts also acknowledge that frequent exposure to chili consumption can increase your cravings for spicy foods (8). Oddly enough, the cravings are caused due to the high exposure to the compound capsaicin, which can be found in chili peppers (8).
For some people, it is a given that they prefer spicy to sweet foods. With that said, it is not surprising to find them craving some spicy meals like chicken. Personality has been linked to liking and perhaps increased spicy food intake (8).
Physiological Differences In Chemosensation
When you consume spicy foods like chili peppers, the capsaicin compound binds to pain receptors on our nerves known as TRPV1 (8). These may result in physiological changes in chemosensation, which ultimately increases your spicy food cravings and liking (8).
Seeing Spicy Foods
In some cases, you will crave spicy food after seeing a prepared spicy meal in a food magazine, journal, or advertisement (14). This may trigger your taste buds to yearn for something hot and spicy.
An imbalance in various hormones might also trigger a food craving, and specifically a spicy food craving. The hormones that are most likely going to affect your food cravings are serotonin and leptin (14). Hormonal changes mainly due to pregnancy or menstruation may also trigger spicy food cravings.
Emotions may also make you crave sweet, salty, or spicy foods. According to Medical News Today, emotions trigger food cravings when you need comfort eating (14). Be very careful when giving in to food cravings resulting from comfort eating. In most cases, individuals go for foods without essential nutrients, resulting in various nutritional deficiencies, especially if the habit persists.
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Why Am I Craving Spicy Food In Pregnancy?
As mentioned earlier, hormonal changes in pregnancy tend to trigger various food cravings. They may be sweet, salty, or spicy. The desires can also be selective or nonselective. Selective food urges refer to specific food cravings (14). For example, you could crave spicy chicken wings from one particular restaurant.
Nonselective cravings, on the other hand, do not tie you down to any food. Instead, your desire to eat anything and perhaps everything. In most cases, this type of craving is believed to stem from excessive hunger or thirst (14).
There is a debate as to whether pregnant women should give in to their spicy food cravings. According to experts, the idea is not to give in to desires but instead focus on making smart and healthy food choices (9).
Foods To Eat In Pregnancy
Remember that good nutrition is the cornerstone of any healthy pregnancy. You must eat healthy meals as what you eat signifies your baby’s primary source of nutrition (9). Experts recommend you add the following to your nutrition plan if you are pregnant (9):
Whole grains are a good carbohydrate source, which provides your body with energy to perform various tasks. These foods are recommended due to their high fiber, iron, minerals and B vitamins content (9). Some of the whole grains to consider are whole-wheat bread, brown rice, whole grain cereals, and whole-wheat pasta (9). It would help if you consulted before using various hot spices to prepare your whole grain cereals.
Fruits And Vegetables
You also need to consume a load of fruits and vegetables during pregnancy as they have minerals, vitamins, and fiber that helps with digestion (9). Similarly, most fruits and vegetables contain vitamin C which helps with iron absorption (9). Remember also to consume many dark leafy vegetables rich in folate, iron, and vitamin A, which are vital nutrients in pregnancy (9).
Dairy products contain calcium, essential for the development of the baby’s bones and teeth (9). These products also contain protein and vitamin D, which are also essential nutrients to acquire during pregnancy. Experts recommend having at least 3 cups of dairy products like milk or soy-based milk every day and yogurt as your afternoon snack (9).
It is vital to have water in pregnancy as it helps carry nutrients from your food to your baby (9). It also helps prevent hemorrhoids, urinary tract infections, constipation, excessive swelling, and bladder infections (9).
Some people may prefer to have other beverages such as soft drinks, juices, coffee, and tea. Although they may not be harmful, keep in mind that such beverages contain calories and added sugars which may result in weight gain (9).
Fish, Beans, Eggs, Meat, And Poultry
All these are examples of foods rich in protein. Protein is one of the vital components for your baby’s growth. These foods also contain iron and B vitamins (9). Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids that help with the development of your baby’s brain (9).
However, not every fish is safe. Keep away from fish known to have high mercury content, including king mackerel, swordfish, shark, and tilefish (9). Do not prepare spicy or raw fish, poultry, or meat without first consulting your nutritionist and doctor. Remember that you are now eating for two and must consider if the spices are safe and healthy for your baby.
Healthy Fats And Oils
You must also choose healthy fats and oils such as nuts, seeds, and fruits like olives and avocados (9). You might yourself indulge in them more than once in a while. It is okay so long as you are getting essential nutrients. However, remember not to go overboard as it may result in added calories that cause weight gain (9).
Why Give In To Spicy Food Cravings?
Believe it or not, there are some potential health benefits associated with the consumption of spicy foods. These health benefits highlight some reasons why you may not want to resist your spicy food cravings. They include:
Reduced Mortality Risk
Experts acknowledge that consuming spicy foods prepared with chili peppers could potentially help reduce mortality risk (4). According to these experts, chili peppers contain a compound known as capsaicin (4).
Recent studies indicate that capsaicin helps improve cardiovascular functioning and metabolic regulation (4). Medical News today’s research suggests that people who regularly ate chili peppers had a 34% reduced cardiovascular mortality risk over those who rarely ate chili peppers (4).
Similarly, some researchers have also concluded that the compound can decrease the risk of several diseases that increase your mortality risk. These include gastrointestinal disorders, cancer, arthritis, and neuropathic pain (4).
These findings concur with the 2015 study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health (12). The study discovered that individuals who ate spicy foods almost daily had a 14% lower mortality risk than those who ate such meals once a week (12).
Reduced Cholesterol Levels
Various studies also suggest that consuming spicy foods can help lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. The evidence from these studies acknowledges that capsaicin, the compound in the spices, is responsible for reducing LDL levels (12).
There is a solid reason why LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is the harmful cholesterol level. According to MedlinePlus, too much LDL levels leads to plaque buildup in your arteries (2).
When this happens, your arteries tend to narrow, decreasing blood flow to your heart (3). Eventually, reduced blood flow results in angina (chest pain), shortness of breath, or other signs and symptoms of coronary artery disease (3). If plaque completely blocks the arteries, you tend to suffer from a heart attack (3).
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Improved Overall Health
WebMD also acknowledges that consuming spicy food, especially that prepared with fresh spices, can help improve your overall health (11). It is because the compound capsaicin in the fresh spices also helps in the following ways (11):
- By maintaining healthy bacterial content in the intestine.
- By controlling inflammation. Chronic inflammation is dangerous to your health as it leads to plaque buildup in your arteries. Plaque buildup is associated with an increased risk of stroke, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other chronic conditions (6). Peppers contain capsaicin that helps fight inflammation and vitamin C, a cancer-fighting agent (11).
- By reducing oxidative stress.
The Negative Effects Of Giving In To Food Cravings
As mentioned earlier, it can be pretty challenging to resist the urge to give in to a food craving. In most cases, individuals always end up getting the spicy foods they were craving. At the moment, these foods will give you the hot flavors you were yearning for. However, remember that spicy food cravings can lead to far more severe health problems. Some of these include:
Increased Dementia Risk
Many people around the globe add spicy peppers to their meals to get that punchy food experience. Some people will go for the Carolina Reaper, which is one of the most piquant peppers in the world. Unfortunately, this pepper will give you more than a punchy food experience.
According to Medical News Today, consumption of the Carolina Reaper has been linked to fatal and immediate health problems (7). Experts acknowledged that in 2018, a man who consumed a Carolina Reaper ended up in the ER with a thunderclap headache (7).
Longitudinal cohort studies conducted in China also suggest that chili pepper consumption may hasten cognitive decline, increasing dementia risk (7). The risk was higher among individuals who consumed more than 50 grams of chili every day (7).
Negative Energy Balance
Spicy food consumption also reportedly promotes negative energy balance due to its primary compound, capsaicin. A study was conducted to determine the link between capsaicin and the negative energy balance (13).
Evidence showed that capsaicin and capsiate found in spicy foods augmented energy expenditure and enhanced fat oxidation (13). These rates were even higher among individuals who regularly consumed spicy foods. The study also found that capsaicin and capsiate suppressed orexigenic sensations, which prompted the negative energy balance (13).
Increased Risk Of Abdominal Obesity
Spicy food intake has also been linked to an increased risk of abdominal obesity, especially in low-income areas (1). A 2019 study conducted in China among an adult rural population discovered that spicy food consumption increased the risk of abdominal obesity (1).
The China Health and Nutrition Survey (CHNS) data of 2011 reveals that the prevalence of abdominal obesity in rural China is 44% (1). This particular study indicated that the rates have been increasing due to increased spicy food intake (1). However, the research suggests that fat energy intake may mediate the link between spicy food intake and increased abdominal obesity in rural Chinese areas (1).
The Bottom Line
Why am I craving spicy food? It could be due to hormonal changes, emotions, social influences, frequent exposure to capsaicin, physiological changes in chemosensation, or your personality.
Giving in to these spicy food cravings has its benefits and disadvantages. The pros are that spicy foods could improve your overall health, reduce bad cholesterol and mortality risk. The downside is that they might result in negative energy balance and increase abdominal obesity and dementia risk. Stay safe and always consult with a dietitian before adding spicy foods to your eating plan.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on for decision-making. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Association of the frequency of spicy food intake and the risk of abdominal obesity in rural Chinese adults: a cross-sectional study (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Cholesterol (2021, medlineplus.gov)
- Coronary artery disease (2020, mayoclinic.org)
- Could hot chili peppers reduce mortality risk? (2019, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Extreme spicy food cravers displayed increased brain activity in response to pictures of foods containing chili peppers: an fMRI study (2019, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- How to use food to help your body fight inflammation (2019, mayoclinic.org)
- Is spicy food linked to dementia risk? (2019, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Personality factors predict spicy food liking and intake (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Pregnancy nutrition: Healthy eating-basics (2019, mayoclinic.org)
- Social influences on eating (2016, sciencedirect.com)
- Spicing Up Your Meals Might Extend Your Life (2015, webmd.com)
- Spicy foods associated with longer life, Harvard researchers find (2020, healthharvard.edu)
- The Effects of Capsaicin and Capsiate on Energy Balance: Critical Review and Meta-analyses of Studies in Humans (2012, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- What causes food cravings? (2020, medicalnewstoday.com)