Why Am I Craving Spicy Food? 6 Possible Culprits!

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There are a variety of misconceptions about spicy foods. 

For example, some people ask questions like: “Can you eat spicy food on your period?” even though nothing says that any foods are off-limits while menstruating.

Another area of confusion surrounding spicy foods is what craving spicy food means. 

In other words, people frequently ask questions such as, “Why am I craving spicy food all of a sudden?” “Why do I crave spicy food on my period?” “Why do I crave hot sauce, or why am I craving jalapeños?“

Spicy food cravings can be surprising and confusing, so understanding why you crave spicy foods can help you address the issue and put your mind at ease.

In this guide, we will discuss the common causes of craving spicy food, whether you are craving hot peppers, craving jalapeños, craving hot sauce, craving wasabi, or experiencing some other intense spicy food craving all of a sudden.

We will look at: 

  • Why Am I Craving Spicy Food?
  • Is It Bad If You Crave Spicy Foods?

Let’s get started!

A person with a fork in their mouth.

Why Am I Craving Spicy Food? 

Before we look at the causes of craving spicy foods, let’s briefly cover what we mean by “spicy food cravings.“

Spicy foods refer to hot and spicy ingredients or meals that are prepared with some type of spicy pepper or hot spice such as chili peppers, cayenne pepper, jalapeños, habaneros, ghost peppers, wasabi paste, hot salsa vs mild salsa, Sriracha sauce, hot sauce, Tabasco, etc.

Other foods may be potently spiced but are not necessarily hot and spicy foods.

For example, spices like cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, garlic, etc., can be found in spicy meals and are sometimes considered under the umbrella of spicy food cravings.

However, these are not hot and spicy in the way that a traditional hot sauce craving or hot pepper craving would potentially “scratch the itch“ for a spicy hot food craving.

There can be some overlap in eating cinnamon, craving curry, or craving other foods with these spices that are shared with craving hot spicy foods like chili pepper cravings, but there are also differences, so we will mostly be focusing on hot and spicy food cravings here.

Indian food.

Here are some of the most common reasons why you are craving spicy foods, craving Tabasco sauce, craving red pepper flakes, craving jalapeños, craving hot sauce, or some other spicy food or spicy meal:

#1: Sensory Seeking

Food cravings are sometimes brought about by sensory-seeking behavior. For example, you might crave ice cream if you want something cold, or you might crave chips or even carrots if you are looking for something crunchy.

Because spicy food elicits such a physiological reaction in your mouth, craving spicy food is often brought about when your body and/or mind seek heightened sensory input.

The burn of capsaicin in hot peppers can release endorphins.

If you don’t like spicy food, it may sound strange that someone would yearn for the burning sensation of eating spicy foods, but some people enjoy a temporary burning feeling in the mouth.

This can cause an impulse to eat spicy food or even dab hot sauce on your tongue.

Plates of spicy food.

#2: Hunger 

If some of your favorite hearty meals are spicy meals like a spicy Thai dish, spicy chicken wings, a spicy hot Indian curry, etc., you may have cravings for spicy foods because you are undernourished and need more calories either in an acute situation or long-term if you are following a weight loss diet and in a caloric deficit.

Our favorite foods cause dopamine release in the brain when we eat them, which means that we are more likely to eat them because dopamine causes feelings of pleasure.

Therefore, if your body is experiencing low energy availability or is trying to compel you to take in more calories, protein, fat, carbs, or some of the other nutrients that are found in your favorite spicy food dish, you may experience a craving for spicy foods all of a sudden.

#3: Habit

Another spicy food craving cause is simply habitual or emotional.

If you are accustomed to eating spicy foods, or you enjoy spicy meals, you may experience a craving for spicy meals anytime you are hungry or to satisfy emotional needs.

We often assume that “comfort foods“ that people turn to when they are sad, anxious, lonely, depressed, or even excited are just sweet foods or maybe salty or fried foods.

This can depend on how you were raised in terms of the foods that you habitually ate or the food preferences you have developed as you have matured.

But, spicy foods may be your comfort foods. 

In these cases, it is certainly reasonable that a cause for craving hot peppers or craving hot sauce, or spicy foods is akin to someone with a sweet tooth craving cookies, ice cream, or a piece of chocolate cake.

Hot peppers.

#4: Acid Reflux

If you have acid reflux or heartburn, you likely need to eliminate spicy foods from your diet, so you may crave spicy foods if you have to follow any bland diet protocol.

#5: Hormonal Changes

Among the most common questions surrounding spicy food cravings are: Why do I crave spicy food on my period, or why am I craving spicy foods while pregnant? 

Pregnancy and the menstrual cycle are both times of significant hormonal shifts, which can cause various food cravings, including craving jalapeños, craving hot peppers, or craving spicy foods.

Aside from the hormonal changes underlying pregnancy spicy food cravings or craving spicy foods on your period, hormonal imbalances with serotonin and leptin can also trigger spicy food cravings.

Leptin is the satiety hormone that helps you feel full, and serotonin acts as a neurotransmitter and hormone with far-reaching effects on the body. 

Studies have found that low serotonin levels trigger appetite and food cravings, as do low leptin levels.

A bowl of spicy chicken.

#6: Congestion

Lastly, spicy foods can alleviate nasal congestion because capsaicin, the spicy compound in chili peppers, can open nasal passages and increase the flow of mucus.

We sometimes crave spicy soup when we have a cold because the combined effects of the steam and the spicy peppers make breathing easier.

Is It Bad If You Crave Spicy Foods?

Compared with certain food cravings, such as craving red meat, which often indicates low iron or low vitamin B12, craving spicy foods is typically not triggered as much by nutritional problems as perhaps emotional, behavioral, or hormonal.

That said, if you are craving spicy foods all of a sudden, and you have changed your diet or feel like you are not eating enough calories, it is important to examine your overall caloric intake and macro ratios to make sure that you are meeting your nutritional needs.

Although the number of calories you should eat in a day will depend on your body weight, body composition, physical activity level, and weight-related goals, according to the 2020-2025 United States Dietary Guidelines:

  • Adult men should consume a minimum of 2,200–2,400 calories per day
  • Adult females should consume at least 1,600–1,800 calories per day
Red pepper powder.

This is for healthy weight maintenance, but to avoid your body going into starvation mode, according to Harvard Health, the minimum calories a day adults should be eating unless otherwise guided by a healthcare professional is:

  • 1200 calories a day for a woman
  • 1500 calories a day for a man

It can also be comforting to know that there are many benefits of eating spicy foods, so if you do want to indulge your hankering for spicy foods, in most cases, eating more spicy food or adding hot spices to your meals isn’t going to be a bad thing. 

You can read about the benefits of eating spicy foods here.

The caveat here is if you have a specific contraindication to eating spicy foods, such as in the case of acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or have otherwise been advised by your doctor or a nutrition professional to limit your spicy food intake.

Overall, most of the spicy food craving causes are not a major concern.

However, if you do feel concerned about developing cravings for spicy food all of a sudden or you are worried about the causes of spicy food cravings in your own life, you should speak with your healthcare provider or work with a nutritionist to identify the specific root of the compulsion to eat spicy foods for you.

If you also find yourself craving meat, click here to help you figure out why.

Steak.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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