Do you love munching on spicy snacks like Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and Takis? If so, you may want to think twice before reaching for another bag. These snacks may not only burn your tongue, but also cause some serious health problems.
A recent case of a Tennessee teen who needed gallbladder surgery after consuming large amounts of spicy snacks has sparked a debate about the safety of these foods. The teen’s mother blamed the snacks for her daughter’s stomach pains and gallbladder removal. But are spicy snacks really the culprit?
According to experts, spicy foods per se aren’t a known risk factor for gallbladder problems, but fatty foods like chips are. The gallbladder is a small organ under the liver that stores and releases bile, a fluid that helps digest fat. Eating too much fat can stimulate the gallbladder to squeeze out bile, but if there are gallstones blocking the flow, it can result in intense pain and inflammation.
Gallstones are hard deposits of cholesterol or bile that form in the gallbladder. They can vary in size and number, and some people may not have any symptoms at all. But others may experience nausea, vomiting, fever, jaundice and abdominal pain, especially after eating fatty or spicy foods.
The exact cause of gallstones is not clear, but some factors that may increase the risk include obesity, diabetes, family history, gender (women are more likely to get them than men) and age (older people are more prone to them).
The only way to get rid of gallstones is to remove the gallbladder surgically, which is a common and safe procedure. However, some people may have digestive issues after the surgery, such as diarrhea, bloating and gas.
But even if spicy snacks don’t cause gallstones, they can still irritate your stomach and cause other problems. Spicy foods contain a substance called capsaicin, which gives them their hot sensation. Capsaicin can increase the acidity of your stomach and trigger gastritis, or inflammation of the stomach lining. This can lead to stomach pain, ulcers and bleeding.
“We see it pretty often — teenagers come in eating bags of [spicy] chips on a weekly basis” and they complain of belly pain, Dr. Carrie Firestone Baum, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, told CNN.
Some people may be more sensitive to spicy foods than others, and may experience symptoms even with small amounts. Others may develop a tolerance over time and enjoy the spicy kick without any problems. But moderation is key for everyone.
“We assure you that Takis are safe to eat, but should be enjoyed in moderation as part of a well-balanced diet,” a statement from Takis said. “Takis ingredients fully comply with U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations, and all of the ingredients in each flavor are listed in detail on the label. Always check the serving size before snacking.”
Frito-Lay, the maker of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, also issued a similar statement: “Some consumers may be more sensitive to spicy foods than others and may choose to avoid spicier snacks due to personal preference.”
So next time you crave some heat, be mindful of how much you eat and how your body reacts. Spicy snacks may be tasty, but they are not worth risking your health.