You might want to swap that ice pop for a jalapeno popper.
Though increasingly sweltering summer days probably have you reaching for the likes of popsicles, jugs of iced tea, and as many soft serve cones as possible, there’s a chance those frozen indulgences could be doing more harm than good in the cool down department. In fact, it might be time to swap those mountains of ice cream for something much, much warmer.
It’s true that most of the world’s spiciest cuisines come from hotter climates, from India and Southeast Asia to Africa and the Caribbean, but why exactly have these chile-infused foods gotten a reputation for their ability to cool us down… and is that ability real or a mere myth?
As it turns out, there is plenty of scientific data that confirms that consuming spicier foods will cool you down far more effectively than the cold treats that tempt us all summer long, and it’s due to one simple reason: sweat.
This unlikely phenomenon boils down to the way our body regulates its own temperature to react to the elements. When we consume spicy foods, our internal temperatures immediately begin to rise as a result of the heat radiating from the chiles and spices entering our systems. As a response to this upswing in temperature, the body starts circulating more blood, resulting in the production of more sweat.
This specific kind of sweat, known as ‘Gustatory Facial Sweating’, can help you feel relief from the heat rapidly as it will start evaporating quickly, immediately beginning the cooling process. According to a study, this kind of sweating “is a phenomenon characterized by profuse facial perspiration that is provoked by the taste of food,” or even just “the sight or smell of food.”
Another report out of the John B. Pierce Laboratory at Yale University claims that the body’s reaction to consuming spicy foods is linked to a chemical called Capsaicin, which is prevalent in chili peppers including jalapenos, cayennes, and habaneros. When ingested, this chemical triggers a response in the nervous system that leads to “vasodilation, sweating, and flushing.” In a nutshell: The more spicy food you consume, the more you’ll sweat from your head—the main heat regulator for your body—ultimately cooling you down after the initial flush of heat.
On the flipside, instinctively reaching for a colder treat, like a double-scoop cream cone or icy beverage, in an effort to cool down will likely have the opposite effect. This is because these colder foods will decrease your internal temperature almost immediately, which results in an overall raise in your body temperature, as your systems are reflexively trying to push back against the cold. Therefore, while these cool treats may feel good in the moment, the end result will just leave you feeling more overheated than before.
Though some might not be down for producing even more sweat throughout the summer months, in the end you’ll be doing your body a solid by feasting on the hottest items on the menu.
To get started on your cooling-off-by-heating-up mission, fill this week’s meal plan with recipes that will bring the heat, like Spicy Basil Chicken, Chicken Shawarma, or Soba Noodles with Chicken in Peanut Sauce. You’ll have the table sweating in no time.