How cool is this? Eat spicy foods to cool you down.
As summer temperatures rise, especially here in Texas, more and more people are searching for ways to stay cool. Air conditioning units and fans are traditional go-to solutions. However, what if the answer to cooling down isn’t in the tech you use but in the food you consume? The idea might seem paradoxical, but spicy foods have been linked to physiological cooling effects. I hope to inspire you by exploring the surprising relationship between the foods that set our mouths on fire and their ability to cool us down.
The Power of Spices
Thousands of years of culinary traditions in hot climates offer anecdotal evidence of the cooling power of spicy foods. From India and Thailand’s fiery curries to South America’s pepper-packed dishes, this a trend we cannot ignore! Think about it: many of the world’s hottest places have developed some spiciest cuisines.
But why? For one, spices were a preservation method in the era before refrigeration. They inhibited the growth of bacteria and extended the shelf life of foods. But it’s also likely that people in these regions stumbled upon the body’s natural reaction to spicy foods – the sweating and cooling effect.
The Metabolism Connection
Spicy foods contain capsaicin, a compound in chili peppers responsible for their fiery kick. Consuming capsaicin binds to pain receptors in our mouths and throats, leading to the sensation of heat or burning. This interaction prompts our bodies to react in several ways:
As the body’s internal temperature increases due to capsaicin, it naturally sweats to cool itself down. As the sweat evaporates from the skin, the body experiences a cooling sensation.
In response to the “pain” of the spice, our brains release endorphins. These are the body’s natural painkillers, which can produce a sense of euphoria. This phenomenon is often referred to as a “chili high.” This release can improve mood and reduce perceived discomfort, potentially making you feel cooler.
Contradictory Cooling: Why It Makes Sense
While the immediate sensation of consuming spicy foods is one of heat, the physiological response – increased sweating – is inherently cooling. Sweat, when evaporated, helps reduce body temperature. Therefore, while your mouth might feel on fire in the short term, your body is working to cool itself down in the long run.
When we consume spicy foods, our body responds by increasing blood circulation and causing us to sweat. This sweat, upon evaporating, cools the skin and thus provides a cooling sensation. This is our body’s way of maintaining a constant core temperature. Simultaneously, spices can boost our metabolic rate, causing the body to burn more calories and produce a temporary sensation of warmth.
Studies have consistently shown a link between capsaicin consumption and metabolic rate. For instance, a study published in “Appetite” 2016 indicated that dietary capsaicin helps enhance energy expenditure and fat oxidation. While the primary focus of such studies often revolves around weight management, they underscore the profound impact of spicy foods on our metabolism, subsequently affecting our body temperature.
Contradictory as it might seem, this ‘spice-induced cooling’ is why countries with hotter climates have leaned into spicy foods. It offers physiological relief from external temperatures.
Spicy Pairings with Fruits and Vegetables:
Incorporate these spices with fruits and vegetables to feel the effects and relish the combined flavors:
In Mexico, people often season their helpings of fruit—which are helpful for staying hydrated when the weather is warm—with tajin, a blend of dried chilis, lime juice, and salt.
Chili Peppers with Mangoes: The heat of the chili contrasts beautifully with the sweetness of mangoes.
Cayenne Pepper with Pineapple: This combination provides a tangy and spicy kick that's refreshing.
Ginger with Carrots: Perfect for a zesty salad or a revitalizing juice.
Turmeric with Cauliflower: Add a pinch of black pepper to increase the absorption of curcumin from turmeric.
Cumin with Avocado: Spice up your guacamole or avocado toast.
Paprika with Corn: Sprinkle some on grilled corn for an enhanced smoky flavor.
So, the next time you’re feeling the sweltering effects of a hot day, consider reaching for a spicy dish – your body might thank you.
Note: Always consume spicy foods in moderation and be aware of your body’s reaction. Some individuals may be more sensitive to spicy foods, and excessive consumption can lead to digestive distress.