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11 Possible Reasons Why You Crave Spicy Foods

Food cravings can be of many types and due to many causes. It is an intense and uncontrollable desire to consume a specific type of food, be it sweet, salty or spicy. Food craving is mainly considered a negative experience as it may make it difficult for people to withstand the hunger for their desired food. [1]

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Sudden cravings for spicy food could be a sign of hormonal changes, chronic stress, pregnancy or eating disorders. Capsaicin, the primary active compound in varieties of chilli peppers and the main ingredient of spicy foods is mainly known to be the cause of cravings.

In this article, we will discuss possible reasons why you crave spicy foods. Take a look.

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1. Sensation Seeking and Sensitivity to Reward

A study has shown that the frequency of chilli intake is positively linked to certain personality variables such as sensation-seeking (SS) and sensitivity to reward (STR). The SS refers to the need for new, varied and complex sensations and experiences, regardless of any social or physical risks associated with it, while STR refers to a personality trait in which a person derives pleasure or reward from things like foods or drugs. [2]

The burning and stinging sensation of capsaicin may induce a strong liking towards spicy foods and may also trigger cravings towards them when the desire is not met. [3]

2. To adjust to a cold environment

A journal has shown that capsaicin in chilli peppers can have a positive effect on the body temperature and may affect the warm sensors of the body's regulatory system.

Therefore, when the environment is cool or a person feels cold, consuming spicy foods, which are rich in capsaicin, can help trigger the feeling of warmth in their body and may help adjust to the cold temperature of the surroundings. [4]

3. Dieting

One of the reasons for craving spicy foods is dieting. A Springer journal has shown that diet-induced cravings can be mainly due to deficiency of nutrition or suppression of desire to eat certain foods.

A person may crave spicy foods as they may have a deficiency of capsaicin (a vital compound in chillis) in their bodies or they might have suppressed their desire to eat spicy foods due to certain restrictions. The theory is, however, unclear as the findings are just based on experimental studies. [5]

4. Increase in brain activity

Cravings for spicy food may also increase due to an increase in brain activity. According to a study, spicy food cravers may show increased activation of certain brain areas such as the left dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, left putamen, bilateral cuneus and right precentral gyrus, compared to non-cravers.

These brain areas are involved in activities like motor control, cognition, learning and movements. Therefore, when these activities increase, the brain activity increases too, leading to an increase in the cravings for spicy food. [6]

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5. Eating disorders

Craving for certain foods has been linked to eating disorders such as emotional eating, binge eating and overeating in many studies. A study links experiential avoidance (attempts to avoid behaviours such as bodily sensations, thoughts and emotions) with eating disorders and food cravings.

It says that when a person avoids or suppresses their emotions, they get vulnerable to eating more food (emotional eating) to reduce their unpleasant feelings. This triggers in them the eating disorders. Similarly, sometimes, a person with eating disorders may also seek spicy foods to cope with their disorder. [7]

6. Having a higher body mass index

A study conducted on 108 healthy women between ages 20-37, has shown that women with a higher body mass report more consistent cravings for foods such as chocolate, ice cream, fatty foods and spicy foods.

Though the cravings are more for chocolate-based or sweet food items, spicy food was also on the list. Having a higher body mass or weight may increase your cravings for spicy foods. [8]

7. Being pregnant

Food craving during pregnancy is common and is mainly not related to any nutritional deficiencies but an increase in the demand for energy and hormonal changes.

Among the most common types of foods which are craved by pregnant women, spicy foods constitute 3.3 per cent, with sweet foods (34.7 per cent) and fruits (12.7 per cent) being the top two food groups. Changes in hormones during pregnancy may also lead to cravings for specific foods such as spice-filled foods. [9]

8. Depression

Capsaicin is known to have anti-depressant activities that may help tackle mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Even small amounts of capsaicin can help induce anti-depressant-like effects in the body and reduce it.

Therefore, when a person is depressed or has chronic anxiety, they may crave spicy foods as the pungency of capsaicin in these foods may help lower their depressive symptoms and give them a sensation of pleasure. [10]

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9. Improve symptoms of rhinitis

Some of the symptoms of rhinitis include runny nose, sneezing or nasal congestion. A study mentions that capsaicin may help produce a burning sensation in the body and help relieve these symptoms.

It may work as a therapeutic compound and help alleviate inflammation or allergy-causing rhinitis symptoms. Therefore, a person down with fever or those experiencing these symptoms may crave spicy foods to get relief from the condition. [11]

10. To feel nice and happy

As aforementioned, capsaicin is an anti-depressant and could be a mood booster active compound. A study talks about how capsaicin may trigger a sensation of burning pain due to its pungent flavour and activate the sensory neurons.

These neurons send signals to the brain regarding a burning pain, which may make the brain release pain-relieving enzyme endorphins to boost the mood. In simple terms, a person may crave spicy foods when they want to feel nice or be happy for a while. [12]

11. Social influences

A study talks about how our eating behaviours may get influenced by social factors such as cultural expectations or eating behaviours of people surrounding us.

No matter what our personal choice of foods is, it is more likely that we tend to start following the eating behaviours similar to people surrounding us or our culture. Therefore, if a person belongs to a culture where people mainly consume spicy foods, chances are they may also develop the same behaviours.[13]

To Conclude

Cravings for spicy foods can also develop suddenly in individuals just by looking at spicy foods or by the smell of the food. These cravings are not bad only if you consume the foods in limited amounts, as the excess consumption may lead to gastrointestinal issues. Consult a medical expert if you think your craving is persistent and is causing you harm.

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