Hot Spicy Food Challenge: Dietitian’s Verdict

In the dynamic realm of culinary trends, one phenomenon stands out: the spicy food challenge, captivating both food enthusiasts and social media users alike. However, behind the excitement lies a crucial concern — the spread of potentially harmful habits through these extreme culinary spectacles. In this article, we'll explore the pros and cons of spicy foods and the dangers of excessive consumption, shedding light on this fiery trend's impact.

What is the Spicy Food Challenge on TikTok?

The latest TikTok craze sweeping through the platform is none other than the Spicy Food Challenge, captivating TikTokers and pushing the boundaries of spiciness to new extremes. Whether it's devouring fiery peppers or sampling outrageously hot sauces, TikTok serves as the stage where individuals test their limits. Some brave souls tackle renowned peppers like the Carolina Reaper, while others explore hot sauces boasting astronomical heat ratings. Amidst the excitement, it's clear that these challenges aren't without their consequences. However, before delving into the potential drawbacks, let's first explore how spiciness is measured.

Food spiciness level

In 1912, pharmacist Wilbur Scoville set out to create a heat-producing ointment but ended up inventing the Scoville scale, a measure of spiciness. This scale relies on diluting pepper extract until its heat is no longer detectable to testers, with the level of dilution determining the Scoville Heat Units (SHU). For instance, it would take 2,500–5,000 cups of water to dilute 1 cup of Tabasco pepper sauce enough to eliminate its heat. That’s why we say Tabasco sauce has 2,500–5,000 Scoville heat units or SHU. Thus, the Scoville scale provides a standardized measure for the intensity of spiciness.

Here are some examples of foods and their spiciness levels in SHU:

FoodSHU
Chile Con Carne15–30
Paprika (dry, ground)0–150
Taco sauce300
Chili pepper (dry, ground)975
Jalepeno (fresh, green)1,500–4,500
Tabasco sauce 2,500–5,000
Jalepeno (dry, ground)15,000–30,000
Hot red pepper (dry, ground)15,000–120,000
Carolina Reaper1,500,000–2,500,000
Pepper X2,693,000

What are the risks of spicy food?

Maintaining balance is crucial when it comes to consuming spicy foods; excessive intake can pose risks to your health. Let's delve into some potential hazards associated with overindulgence in spicy cuisine.

Gastrointestinal problems

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is one of the side effects of excessive consumption of spicy foods. As there is an irritation in the gastrointestinal tract, spicy foods can easily trigger discomfort and may lead to damage to tissue. Besides pharmacotherapy, doctors consider lifestyle and dietary changes as the first-line treatment in GERD patients. These modifications surely exclude spicy foods from the diet.

According to the results of a cross-sectional study on chronic gastritis patients, 58% of patients reported that their disease symptoms were related to their dietary habits. Spicy food consumption was seen in 25% of the population. Stomachache and gastric distention were the most common symptoms and were found to be related to spicy food consumption, especially in male patients.

Similar to other gastrointestinal problems, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) patients may also be affected by spicy foods as these foods keep their triggering effects even after digestion in the stomach. IBS is a global problem, characterized by fluctuating abdominal pain or discomfort associated with altered bowel habits in the absence of organic bowel diseases. If you have IBS, when you eat spicy food, capsaicin, the active component in hot peppers and some other spicy foods, may accelerate your gastrointestinal transit time and cause abdominal pain and burning sensations.

Cancer

Many studies on spicy foods concluded that their consumption may be linked to various cancers, from esophageal or gastric cancers to gallbladder or colorectal cancers. However, it's crucial to note that there is a dose-dependent relationship between cancer risk and spicy food consumption. While moderate to high pepper consumption among the Asian population was found to be significantly associated with gastric cancer, there was no indication that low consumption of pepper or spices increased the risk of developing gastric cancer.

Issues during pregnancy

As gastrointestinal reflux is common during pregnancy, pregnant women should also control their spicy food consumption. It may easily irritate their gastrointestinal tract and lead to abdominal pain, reflux, and vomiting. However, it has been reported that if the mother does not feel any indigestion or irritation while consuming spicy foods during breastfeeding, there is no harm in their moderate consumption, and it will not affect the content of the mother's milk.

Migraine

While the exact triggers of migraines remain unclear, a study delved into the connection between various foods and migraine episodes. Findings from this observational study, which involved 360 female participants, revealed that spicy foods were among the items commonly consumed by 60.38% of the participants. Researchers concluded that these foods were one of the potential triggers associated with migraine attacks.

Cardiovascular diseases

In a study published in 2022 examining the impact of spicy food consumption on cardiovascular and diabetes risk factors, researchers discovered that it was associated with an adverse cardiovascular risk profile in elderly individuals, yet more research is needed to confirm whether this link is causal.

Allergies and food intolerances

While spices are generally not common allergens, and allergic reactions to them are rare, certain individuals may exhibit heightened sensitivity to the bitterness or capsaicin content present in spicy foods. This sensitivity could manifest as digestive discomfort, irritation, or temporary reactions such as sweating or flushing.

It is important to seek immediate medical attention if you suspect you have a food allergy or are experiencing allergic reactions such as itching, hives, swelling, difficulty breathing, or other serious symptoms after consuming spicy foods. Your doctor can perform tests to identify specific food allergies and help you find exactly which food is causing allergic effects.

How to consume spicy foods

Despite the potential side effects of overconsumption, spices play an integral role in numerous food cultures worldwide and can offer health benefits when consumed in moderation. Here are steps you can take to safely enjoy spicy foods:

Taste first, eat after

Tasting a small amount of spicy food initially allows you to gauge its level of spiciness and assess your tolerance before consuming larger portions. Starting with a small bite or sampling with the tip of your tongue helps you determine if the spice level is suitable for your palate and prevents potential discomfort or irritation.

Consume with a balancing food

Pairing spicy foods with refreshing counterparts can enhance the overall dining experience while also helping alleviate any potential discomfort. These foods can be dairy products like yogurt dips, refreshing drinks such as mint lemonade, or even side dishes such as plain rice porridge or a slice of bread simply.

Dietitian's verdict on spicy food challenges

While the trend of eating spicy foods as a challenge or competition may be entertaining, it's essential to recognize that pushing one's body to endure extreme levels of spiciness can have negative consequences, both physically and mentally. For this reason, we should only use hot spices in doses that add flavor to dishes and consume them to the extent that we will enjoy them.

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