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The Spice Tale

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

People often associate spicy foods with indigestion and notorious stomach ulcers! Anindra Siqueira takes a look at whether spicy foods are really that bad for you

People often believe that spicy food can damage your stomach lining and lead to a host of other health problems, which can range from acid reflux and a loss of appetite to insomnia and an impaired sense of taste. Well, if you’ve been cutting back on the hot sauce because you’re afraid of damaging your health, we shed some light on whether spicy foods are actually bad for you.

Stomach ulcers — the truth
Your stomach has a way of protecting itself. The acid secreted to digest the food that you eat can be damaging to the cells of your stomach. And, even though it sounds counter-intuitive, the checks and balances in place don’t let that happen. The cells of the stomach also secrete mucus that forms a physical barrier, protecting them from the acid. Further down the digestive system, cells in the small intestine secrete a base (the opposite of an acid) which neutralises gastric acids.

Stomach ulcers are actually caused by infections — the bacterium called H. pylori is the main culprit — but painkillers such as aspirin and ibuprofen, especially when taken on an empty stomach, can also cause ulcers. Spicy food may exacerbate stomach ulcers in some people, and stomach ulcers may take longer to heal if you consume spicy foods frequently, but these foods don’t, on their own lead to stomach ulcers.
So, while it is not entirely true that spicy foods cause stomach ulcers, they can affect existing ulcers. It’s best to cut down on your spice intake if you’ve been experiencing digestive discomfort for a prolonged period.

How can spicy foods benefit you?
Before you condemn spicy foods or relegate them to your list of weekend indulgences or infrequent additions to your food, here are a few of their benefits:

  • Spicy foods such as chillies are high in nutrients such as calcium and vitamins A and C.
  • They can boost metabolism and help in weight loss.
  • They are known to reduce inflammation.
  • Spicy foods help ease cold and flu symptoms.
  • They instantly perk up your mood.
  • Spicy foods lower your blood pressure.
  • They are good for heart health.

Additionally, spicy food can have other benefits. Studies have shown that capsaicin, the chemical that gives chillies their pungency, inhibits cancerous cells, leaving healthy cells unaffected. Australian research suggests that adding chillies to your meals may help in reducing cholesterol in your blood.
Research has also shown that regularly eating pungent chillies can help reduce your body’s insulin needs. This may have implications in preventing and treating diabetes.

Sure, too much of anything can be harmful, but we are not asking you to go on an all-chilli diet. With their range of health benefits, if you love the kick of spice in your meals, there’s no reason for you to cut down.

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