It’s not all sweaty armpits and runny noses, though—there are some serious health benefits, too. Here, the good and the bad:
Helps You Fight Colds
Spicy foods can be beneficial when they contain peppers in particular. “Since spicy peppers are full of vitamins like A and C, they can help boost the immune system and even fight the common cold,” says Niket Sonpal, M.D., assistant clinical professor at Touro College of Medicine in New York City. That added heat also has antibacterial properties, which can kill off any budding cold germs in your gut.
Speeds Up Your Metabolism
One of our favorite effects of spicy food: It can do wonders for your waistline. Spicy foods are packed with a chemical called capsaicin, which speeds up your metabolism by increasing your heart rate and body temperature.
Makes You Sweat
Turning up the heat on your plate often leaves you literally sweating. Capsaicin-containing spicy foods really do heat your body up, which is why you may find yourself getting a bit dewy as you down a meal at your favorite Indian place.
Worsens Your Heartburn
While spicy foods don’t actually cause heartburn or stomach ulcers, they can make both worse, says Sonpal. “Spicy peppers burn going down but usually won’t harm you,” he says. “If you notice your reflux acting up, then cut back.” If you’re prone to heartburn, temper the irritating effects with a side of yogurt or sour cream to take the edge off the spice.
Gives You the Runs
One of the more inconvenient effects of spicy foods is the trouble it causes in your gut. Since spice acts as an irritant, it can get things moving as it hits your intestines. “Capsaicin can act as a laxative for some people and cause a quick run to the bathroom,” says Sonpal.
Tones Down Your Taste Buds
Contrary to the flavor it adds in the short term, regularly eating spicy foods can dull your taste buds’ sensitivity over time. So beware of turning up the dial on spiciness just for the sake of pushing the envelope—if you plan on enjoying your favorite spicy dishes for years to come, less is more.
Irritates Your Skin
As anyone who’s ever accidently touched their eye after popping a hot pepper into their mouth can tell you, those babies cause major burn. Since spice can be a serious skin irritant, apply some lip balm before eating to create a barrier for the delicate skin on your lips, and make sure to wash your hands immediately after handling the heat.
Turns You On
In addition to the rest of its health-boosting benefits, capsaicin has also been shown to act as an aphrodisiac for some. Things are about to get a whole lot spicier…