Should you add more spice to your meal? Why another shake of Tabasco is good for your metabolism AND staying cool in a heat wave (and no, it doesn't destroy your taste buds)

August 9, 2018  18:15

It all starts with a little Tabasco sauce on our eggs or a little Sriracha in our ramen.

Suddenly, your mouth feels hot and your tongue goes numb, you start sweating and your eyes begin to water.

Our taste buds do dull as we age, leading many to believe that it's caused by the foods - particularly hot foods - we eat.

But spice lovers, don't fear: spicy dishes do not react to the taste receptors in our mouths but the heat receptors, so no damage is caused by packing on the spice.

In fact, spicy foods can even cool you do down on a hot summer's day, rev up your metabolism and help strengthen your immune system.

When you eat spicy foods, particularly when it comes to peppers such as chilies and jalapenos, you ingest a chemical compound known as capsaicin.

Capsaicin is found in the tissues that hold seeds and the pepper's internal membranes.

It binds to pain receptors in our mouth known as TRPV1, which sends warning signals to our brain that there is harmful heat in our mouth - like a fire.

These receptors were not designed to detect capsaicin but rather to stop us from eating food that could burn our flesh.

So your body starts to work to cool itself down via sweating, blood rushing to the face and even teary eyes or a runny nose.

It's the same reason that if capsaicin comes into contact with our skin or eyes, it also can cause pain, redness and swelling.

Despite the pain, some people often feel a sense of euphoria after eating spicy foods because capsaicin triggers signals in the brain that release two neurotransmitters, endorphins and dopamine.

Endorphins help relieve pain and make you feel happy while dopamine plays a role in our sense of reward - and combined, you can feel the equivalent of a 'runner’s high'.

Eating spicy foods constantly, of course, builds up your tolerance to it, so that the nerve receptors don't react as strongly when they come into contact with capsaicin.

Because the mouth goes a bit numb after coming into contact with the compound, we fall under the impression that we're killing our taste buds - but that's not the case.

Dr Paul Bosland, director of the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University, says the numbness is the body's way of protecting itself from the pain.

'What's happening is that your taste receptors are sending a signal to your brain that there's pain in the form of hotness or heat,' he told Live Science.

'And so your brain starts producing endorphins to block that pain, which causes numbness.'

But no tissue damage actually occurs and this is because heat and taste are two different sensations.

Taste perception - bitter, sour, sweet, salty and umami - is interpreted by caliculus gustatorius receptors, which are different that the receptors that interpret heat or pain.

Capsaicin will only trigger the heat-receptor cells so despite the numbness you feel, your taste buds are not actually being affected.

'People seem to talk about: "Spicy food destroys your taste buds." That's not really true,' Robin Dando, an assistant professor in the department of food science at Cornell University told How Stuff Works.

'It's not physically damaging the tissues. It's just kind of simulating the conditions where they would get damaged.'

We can train ourselves to tolerate spicy foods better by starting with mild amounts of heat and slowly working our way up.

In fact, there have been a number of studies that have worked on the benefits of eating spicy foods.

COOLS YOU DOWN

On a summer day, you might be inclined to reach for an iced tea or an ice cream cone, but spicy food can actually help cool you down.

Cold foods cool your internal temperature too quickly, causing your body to raise the temperature back up and leaving you feeling hotter.

But spicy foods raise your body temperature to match the external temperature and you begin sweating.

Once the moisture of your sweat is evaporated, provided conditions are not humid, you cool down down at more consistent pace.

REVS YOUR METABOLISM

Research has shown that eating spicy foods can aid in weight loss by boosting the metabolism up to 23 percent.

Capasaicin causes your body to generate more heat as it digests hot food, which results in more calories being burned.

Additionally, studies have shown that spice can help decrease your appetite and make you feel fuller.

One Canadian study found that adult men who ate an appetizer with hot sauce ate about 200 calories fewer at lunch compared to a control group.

BOOSTS YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM

Spicy peppers have high amounts of vitamins A and C which helps strengthen the immune system.

A June 1996 study found that chili peppers had anti-microbial effects and inhibited five different types of bacteria, which can help fight infections.

Additionally, a 2015 study from Harvard University found that people were 26 percent less likely to die from infection when they ate chili peppers at lest three times a week.

Capsaicin has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce swelling similar to taking an ibuprofen pill.

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