Eating spicy food causes a physical reaction similar to how the body responds to exercise. We sweat, we become short of breath, and we might even experience feelings of euphoria akin to a runner’s high. But while eating spicy food sure feels like a workout, can it actually help us lose weight? Is it possible to overheat while eating something spicy? And why does eating spicy food give us a euphoric buzz? Here are the answers to these “burning” questions.
Can spicy food help you lose weight?
Actually, yes. Chili peppers taste hot because they contain chemical compounds called capsaicinoids that have bioactive properties. A meta-analysis of twenty different studies with over 560 participants found that capsaicinoid compounds have a positive effect on weight management. Consuming the capsaicinoids found in spicy food increased energy expenditure by about fifty calories per day. Burning these extra calories daily would lead to clinically significant weight loss in roughly one to two years. The meta-analysis also determined that eating spicy food reduces appetite—another potential benefit for weight loss.
Is it possible to overheat from spicy food?
Well, there’s actually no heat in a pepper. “Hot” peppers trick the brain into believing the mouth is on fire. This is because the chemical compound called capsaicin (the most common type of capsaicinoid) binds with pain receptors on our nerves. Capsaicin triggers our TRPV1 receptors that react to heat and warn the brain of the potential threat. The body tries to eliminate the threat by cooling itself off. This is why we sweat, get red in the face, and start breathing more rapidly.
In the most extreme cases, consuming seriously spicy foods (like ghost peppers, for example) can cause blisters in the throat, nausea, and vomiting. However, the notion that spicy foods cause ulcers is a total myth. On the contrary, multiple studies suggest that capsaicin actually reduces acid production in the stomach, which is a good thing. Just pay attention to warning labels on hot sauce and consume in moderation. Our bodies will build up a tolerance to spicy food over time, so knowing your own limits is most important.
Why does spicy food induce euphoria?
There is a reason so many people love spicy food even though it burns. By triggering a pain response, capsaicin causes the brain to release endorphins and dopamine. This reaction leaves us feeling buzzy and euphoric, similar to the experience of a runner’s high. Which makes sense, because the body responds the exact same way to difficult exercise. The brain releases feel good chemicals to mask discomfort and allow us to keep going.
Of course eating spicy food isn’t exactly the same as exercise, but there are more parallels between the two activities than one might expect. Both eating spicy food and working out can assist with weight loss, both have unique health benefits, and both can leave us feeling euphoric. The body develops a tolerance to spicy food the same way it becomes more efficient at exercising over time. All it takes is practice.