Craving Spicy Food? What Makes Us Want It and Why

Do you love the fiery heat of chili peppers? The tingling sensation that comes from eating something spicy? For many people (including, of course, all of us here at PepperScale), spicy food is irresistible. But what makes us crave it so much? And why do some people seem to crave it more than others? Let’s explore the science of spicy food cravings to understand why many of us want it so often.

What’s in chilies that creates these craving sensations?

The answer lies in capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers that gives them their characteristic heat. Capsaicin is a potent irritant, and when we eat foods containing it, our body responds by releasing endorphins as a natural defense mechanism.

Endorphins are hormones that produce feelings of pleasure and pain relief, and they are also what give runners that “runner’s high.” In other words, when we eat spicy food, our bodies reward us with a burst of pleasure to counteract the pain caused by the capsaicin.

And that’s not all. Capsaicin also activates the body’s thermoreceptors, which are responsible for detecting heat. This causes our body to temperature to rise, leading to sweating and an increased heart rate – both of which are also (arguably, for some) desirable sensations. So not only does capsaicin give us a momentary endorphin rush, but it also makes us feel warmer and more alive.

So what are the reasons that we may crave spicy food?

As you can see, capsaicin has some amazing traits. And they deliver many crave-worthy opportunities in our daily lives.

You may crave spicy food if:

  • You’re in pain. Those endorphins capsaicin makes can provide natural relief. Your body may be craving spicy food for ongoing pain maintenance.
  • You’re in need of a boost in energy. If you’re feeling sluggish, spicy food’s ability to increase your heart rate may be something you’re craving.
  • Your body needs to cool down. It may sound odd to think of the heat of chili peppers in this way, but the capsaicin makes your body sweat. That sweat lowers your body’s temperature. This is a major reason why spicy food is so common in high-temperature locations and prevalently eaten during summer months.
  • You’re having circulation or digestion issues. Capsaicin has been shown to help with both, and your craving may come from your body looking for relief.
  • You’re trying to lose weight. The speeding up of the metabolism acts as a natural appetite suppressant. If you’re trying to eat less using spicy food, your body may crave it to feel satiated.
  • You have a cold, flu, or allergies, and you are congested. That revving of your heart rate can clear up your sinuses. But know, the value is only short-lived.
  • You’re in a bad mood. The “runner’s high” capsaicin delivers can lift your spirits. So if you’re in a bad mood, your body may be looking for a way to shake off those duldrums.
  • You’re craving something new, that makes you feel alive. Spicy food certainly delivers here when you’re needing a bump in flavor.
  • You’re addicted to the natural high. It can also be as simple as this. The runner’s high experience of spicy food can be something your body seeks again and again due to how it makes you feel, no matter your mood.

Are there any risks associated with eating too much spicy food?

In moderation, the risks are few. Chili peppers are known to be quite healthy. But there are some risks to consider if you’re craving and eating large quantities of spicy food on a regular basis.

–> Learn More: Jalapeño Nutrition – How Healthy Are They?

Excessive capsaicin intake can lead to many potential issues, including: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, dehydration, and heartburn. These are common, treatable conditions, but they are still something to be aware of if you find yourself eating large amounts of spicy food on a regular basis.

There are some rarer, more serious conditions that are possible, including ulcers, gastritis, and intestinal bleeding. These conditions are more likely to occur if you have a pre-existing condition (GERD, IBS, etc.) that spicy food can exacerbate. If you have any concerns about your health, it’s always best to speak with a medical professional.

Are there other spices that have a similar effect?

There are other spices that have a similar “craveability” factor as capsaicin delivers, though they don’t pack quite the same punch.

Common spices like ginger, cloves, and cinnamon all have properties that can help with pain, inflammation, and circulation. They also have a thermogenic effect, which can help to increase your body’s temperature and metabolism.

While these spices may not have the same immediate effect as capsaicin, they can still provide many of the same benefits if you’re looking for a way to spice up your life without the intense heat.

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UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on September 24, 2022 to include new content.
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