What determines how hot a pepper is

Is Spicy Food Harmful?

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Sharp substances in food can irritate the mucous membrane in the gastrointestinal tract in sensitive people or small children. Most people, however, tolerate them without any problems and benefit from their numerous health-promoting properties.

The sharpness of a dish is determined by secondary plant substances. The most famous piquants are capsaicin from cayenne pepper and chiles, curcumin from turmeric and piperine from pepper. But also gingerol and shogaol from ginger plants, glucosinolates from cabbage vegetables and the allicin from garlic and onion convey a sharp feeling. Pungent substances cannot be perceived as sweet or sour via the taste buds of the tongue, but are perceived via the warmth and pain receptors in the mouth. The sensations range from warming and astringent (contracting) to painful.

Spicy foods can only cause problems for particularly sensitive people. Anyone who suffers from heartburn, irritable stomach, kidney or urinary bladder diseases can exacerbate symptoms of the irritated gastric mucosa or the irritated kidneys. Even toddlers shouldn't eat spicy foods, as their digestive systems have to gradually get used to spicier foods.

All in all, hot substances have more beneficial properties than harmful ones. Several studies have shown that they are primarily anti-carcinogenic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. In addition, they have a beneficial effect on blood pressure, blood circulation and the production of saliva and gastric juice. In addition, they stimulate the intestinal peristalsis, which means that the food pulp can be better mixed and digested. The pungent substances can also be helpful if you have a cold. They stimulate the production of nasal secretions and also have an expectorant effect on the bronchi, so that the mucus can be coughed up better. In addition, it has been observed in several studies that capsaicin increases thermogenesis and thus the energy metabolism.

So if you like hot spices such as chiles, pepper & Co., you can use them with a clear conscience. Only sensitive people and small children should avoid spicy foods.

Judith Mohnhaupt / Wiebke Franz

Chaiyasit K et al. Pharmacokinetic and the effect of capsaicin in Capsicum frutescens on decreasing plasma glucose level. Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand 92 (1), 108-13, 2009
Dhadwal AK, Wang X. Capsaicin blocks HIV protease inhibitor ritonavir-induced vascular dysfunction in porcine pulmonary arteries. Medical Sciences Monitor 15 (1), BR1-5, 2009
Han J, Isoda H. Capsaicin induced the upregulation of transcriptional and translational expression of glycolytic enzymes related to energy metabolism in human intestinal epithelial cells. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 57 (23), 11148-53, 2009
Manjunatha H. Hypolipidemic and antioxidant effects of dietary curcumin and capsaicin in induced hypercholesterolemic rats. Lipids 42 (12), 1133-42, 2007
Notter P. The great book of a hundred spices and herbs. HädeckeVerlag, Weil der Stadt 2004
Saddler H-J. How healthy is spicy food ?, as of 4/08, www.landwirtschaft-mlr.baden-wuerttemberg.de/servlet/PB/menu/1222180_l1/index.html (viewed on 02/10/10)

Status 2011

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