When you think of the three words ‘spicy’, ‘food’ and ‘gut’ together, where does your mind go? You’d be forgiven for believing they aren’t a trio made in heaven – the misconception that spicy food causes gut problems is a common one. Maybe it’s because the hot sensation in our mouths when we consume it can feel so alluringly close to pain, we assume it must do some damage on the way through our digestive tract.
Not so! In fact, humans have prized spice for thousands of years for its therapeutic, often soothing, properties.
But what is a spice, and what counts as spicy? In a food field so wrought with misunderstanding, it’s easy to get confused. Allow us to clarify!
Spicy, Hot or Both?
A spice is a substance from a plant (usually from root, seed, bark or fruit) used in the colouring, flavouring or preservation of food. When it comes to food, ‘spicy’ and ‘hot’ are often used interchangeably, but not all spice comes with heat.
Hot spicy food usually derives its kick from capsaicin, an active compound present in peppers, such as jalapeno and cayenne. The Scoville Scale measures the pungency or ‘heat’ of these foods. Other spices contain compounds that pack punch to varying degrees, such as zingerone in ginger and allyl isothiocyanate in wasabi.
Then there are the ‘cooler’ spices, such as turmeric, cardamom and nutmeg. These may still lend warmth to a dish, but more likely from an explosion of flavour than from the sensation of heat.
The RAW facts: spicy ≠ hot.
Chilli Peppers and Stomach Ulcers
Okay, so not all spicy foods come with a kick. But those that do are probably to blame when gastrointestinal ulcers develop, right?
Wrong. Stomach ulcers are most likely to be caused by the bacteria H. pylori, or by overuse of anti-inflammatory medication. According to research, capsaicin containing foods can actually help prevent and heal peptic ulcers, inhibiting acid and stimulating gastric mucus secretion and neurons that signal the brain for protective action.
The RAW facts: hot spice doesn’t cause stomach ulcers; it may even help them.
Even knowing all that, it’s still easy to think of spice as being somehow irritating or inflammatory to the gut. In fact, the anti-inflammatory properties of many spices are well-documented. Turmeric contains the compound curcumin, which studies have shown has an anti-inflammatory effect in the body. Ginger is also a well-used soothing spice, as is garlic.
The RAW facts: spices have been used as anti-inflammatories for years.
Spicy Foods: Always Safe?
While there are a lot of myths to bust when it comes to spice, one thing that remains true is that moderation is often best. Approach foods that score highly on the Scoville Scale with caution and if you suffer with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Irritable Bowel Disease, indigestion or existing gastritis; avoid foods with capsaicin. Always ask your doctor if you’re unsure whether a spice is safe for you.
The RAW facts: don’t overdo it, and check with your physician if you have existing gut conditions.
How to Spice Things Up
To maximise the gut-loving properties of spice, go for foods that combine tummy friendly spices and probiotics. We created our spicy sauerkraut range with exactly this in mind, and there’s a flavour to suit every taste. Feel the Heat Organic Raw Sauerkraut is for those that want a tingling tongue from their spice. Golden Glow Organic Raw Sauerkraut gives a gentler, building warmth with a side of triple anti-inflammatories from turmeric, ginger and garlic. In the Pink Organic Raw Sauerkraut packs a pick-me-up for mind and gut, with subtle spice paired with fresh citrus.
You can take a solo spoonful of any of these for a little gut treat, but we like to get creative and build a dish around the tummy-loving properties. Try this vegan cauliflower burger to incorporate other healthful spices in a delicious take on an old treat. If you’re a curry fan, this potato and cabbage curry sings with added sauerkraut and a side of chapattis.
Get creative and show us some spice over on Social! #FeelingHotWithRAW #SpicySauerKrauts #GoodGutFeeling #RAWVibrantLiving.