If you find yourself hankering for an extra dash of hot sauce or a jalapeño popper, you may wonder why your body is demanding extra spice.
Most people experience food cravings, and they may be especially prevalent among certain groups, including those who are pregnant or experience chronic stress. In some cases, food cravings may be a sign of a specific health issue or condition (
Cravings for spicy foods, in particular, can often be explained by several other underlying factors.
Here are 5 of the top reasons that you may be craving spicy foods.
Although it sounds counterintuitive, you may crave spicy foods when you’re feeling hot or overheated.
That’s because certain spicy foods may work to cool your body down.
Chili peppers contain capsaicin, the compound that gives peppers their signature spicy flavor.
Some research suggests that capsaicin may play a key role in thermoregulation, a process that helps maintain your body’s internal temperature. Capsaicin elicits a warming sensation when consumed, which may trigger sweating to help cool you off (
The capsaicin found in chili peppers may make you sweat, which can help cool your body if you’re feeling overheated.
Food cravings are common during pregnancy, affecting 50–90% of pregnant women in the United States (
According to one study including 635 pregnant women, sweets like chocolate, ice cream, and desserts were the most commonly craved items (
Yet, spicy foods are another common craving. In fact, in the same study, around 3.3% of women also reported cravings for spicy foods like curry, chili, and spices (
Although it’s not entirely clear what causes food cravings during pregnancy, researchers believe that it may be a combination of hormonal changes, nutrient deficiencies, and certain ingredients or compounds in desired foods (
Many women crave spicy foods during pregnancy. These cravings may be attributed to factors like hormonal changes, nutrient deficiencies, and compounds in spicy foods.
If you’re feeling down or experiencing an episode of depression, adding a few spicy foods to your plate may be beneficial.
This is because capsaicin may give a slight sensation of pleasure.
This plant compound, which is considered an irritant, may work by triggering a painful burning sensation when eaten or exposed to the skin (
Your body responds to this pain by releasing endorphins, which activate your body’s opiate receptors and cause feelings of pleasure (
Some research suggests that disruptions in endorphin levels may be linked to depression and other conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (
Although limited evidence indicates that spicy foods or capsaicin affect depression or mood in humans, studies in mice note that capsaicin may have antidepressant-like effects (
Capsaicin triggers a burning sensation and causes your body to release endorphins, which may help if you’re feeling low or experiencing a bout of depression.
Many people have runny noses after eating spicy foods. Moreover, hot soups, sauces, and seasonings are often recommended as a natural remedy when you’re feeling under the weather.
Interestingly, some research suggests that spicy foods may help clear up congestion and stuffiness.
According to a review of four studies, using a nasal spray containing capsaicin may improve symptoms of nonallergic rhinitis, a condition characterized by congestion, sneezing, and a runny nose (
One review noted that this product acts as a mild irritant at first but then improves symptoms over time (
Some research suggests that spicy foods may ease symptoms of rhinitis, including sneezing, congestion, and a runny nose.
If you’re trying to cut spicy foods out of your diet, there’s a good chance you may experience increased cravings.
In fact, one review noted that short-term food deprivation may lead to increased cravings for whichever foods you’re avoiding (
According to another older review, attempting to restrict or deprive yourself of a certain food is thought to cause cravings due to several underlying mental and emotional processes (
Although little research exists on the specific relationship between food deprivation and cravings for spicy foods, several studies demonstrate this effect with other foods like chocolate and salty snacks (
If you’re trying to wean yourself off spicy foods, you may experience more food cravings than before.
Although you can enjoy spicy foods as a healthy addition to a balanced diet, some people may need to exercise caution and limit their intake.
For example, spicy foods may worsen acid reflux among people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Regularly eating spicy foods may also be tied to a higher risk of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), peptic ulcers, and chronic gastritis (
While spicy foods are generally considered safe for people who are pregnant, you may need to moderate your intake if you experience symptoms of heartburn or indigestion (
If consumed in large amounts, the capsaicin found in spicy foods may cause symptoms like diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, or stomach cramps (
As such, you should eat spicy foods in moderation and remove them from your diet if you experience negative symptoms.
Spicy foods may worsen acid reflux, IBS, peptic ulcers, and gastritis. They may also cause digestive issues, including heartburn, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and stomach cramps, if consumed in large amounts.
There are several possible explanations for your cravings for spicy foods.
In particular, spicy food cravings may be more common during pregnancy or if you’re trying to cut spicy foods out of your diet. Alternatively, craving spicy foods could be a sign that you’re overheated or congested.
Regardless of the reason behind your craving, it’s important to eat spicy foods in moderation and exclude them from your diet if you experience negative side effects like indigestion, nausea, or diarrhea.