How to Adapt to Spicy Food

Spicy food is admired all over the world, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is used to it. Luckily, you too can learn to love the heat if you’re willing to put the effort in to challenge your palette with some spice! Adapting to spicy food may be hard at first, but you’ll open the door to so many new dishes and cuisines if you can make the change. On top of that, spicy food is good for you. Studies have shown that spicy dishes can lower your cholesterol, help with weight loss, and jump-start your metabolism.
1.Start small with mildly spicy food.
If you jump right to the ghost peppers, you’re going to have a bad time. Start out by adding a dash of Tabasco to your mac and cheese or mixing in a pinch of red pepper flakes with your pasta. Not only are you going to enjoy your food more if you can actually taste it, but you’ll also get your tongue used to the sensation.
Dishes like jerk chicken, mild curry, and gumbo are great if you’re trying to expand your culinary horizons.
Spicy mustard is a great way to inject some mild spice into a dish. For a quick dash of heat, try some spicy Mexican or Indian candy.
If you’re scouting out new hot sauces, look for labels with “mild” printed on it. If they list the Scoville units (the unit of measurement for spice), look for something around 450 SHU
2. Eat something spicy every week.
If you eat spicy food more often, you’re more likely to start enjoying it. As you expose yourself to the spice, your tongue gets used to the sensation, and the flavors of each dish will start to become more dynamic.[4] If you keep at it, those mildly spicy foods will eventually taste like nothing, and moderately spicy food will start to taste mild. Try to eat something spicy at least once a week. You will start to enjoy the heat. You may even start actively seeking out spicy food in a few months![5]
The chemical responsible for the heat in spicy food is called capsaicin.[6] The same way that your body builds a tolerance to things like alcohol and caffeine, it can build a tolerance to capsaicin.
3. Increase the heat over time.
Move from mild to moderate heat as you get used to the spice. Ditch the Tabasco sauce for some Sriracha, and order your food with “medium” heat when you go out.[7] If you’re cooking, start with banana peppers and poblanos before moving on to jalapeno and serrano peppers. This way, you’ll build your tolerance up over time.
Once you’re ready for the really spicy peppers, look for habanero, Scotch bonnet, or ghost peppers.
4. Drink milk to stop the spice in its tracks.
The fat and protein in milk will neutralize the spice in your food. This has been proven time and time again in medical studies, so pour yourself a tall glass of milk if you’re sitting down with some friends to enjoy something super spicy. Every few bites or so, take a sip. This will dramatically cut back on the amount of heat you experience.
A dollop of sour cream can also help if you’re eating some spicy chili or tacos.
Skim milk is just as good as whole milk when it comes to taming the heat.
5. Go for ice water or acidic drinks if you have no milk.
A regular glass of water isn’t going to do anything to help with the heat. In fact, it may make the burning feeling worse. This happens because the water spreads the capsaicin around in your mouth. If you have to drink water, put ice in it to at least numb your mouth.[13] Alternatively, sipping something acidic may soothe your pain. Lemonade, orange juice, or grape juice will all work.
Alcohol may help dissolve some of the capsaicin, but people report mixed results with this solution.
Acidic ingredients will also help cut through the spice and cool you off. If your tacos come with a few lime wedges or your spicy pasta has optional cilantro, add it to your dish.
6. Snack on something rough while you eat.
The texture of something different may distract your mouth from the spice. In between bites of chicken vindaloo or spicy meatball, take a bite of a pretzel, cracker, or crouton. It won’t do a ton to fight the capsaicin per se, but it will give your tongue something different to focus on. This can have a tremendous impact if you’re feeling the heat.
Something crunchy and acidic, like a cherry tomato, may help as well.
Sweeter foods may work to curb the heat. A sugar cube may take the edge off, although some people report that this doesn’t help very much.
7. Get something starchy along with your spice.
Carbs like potatoes and bread will help absorb the capsaicin. Starchy carbohydrates will also create a barrier that makes it harder for the capsaicin to dig into your taste buds. Keep a slice of bread next to your glass of milk if you know you’re going to eat something extremely spicy.[19] Don’t skip the naan bread or rice when you’re digging into some chicken tikka masala, and turn that spicy burrito bowl into a regular burrito.
Spicy Indian and Chinese food comes with rice for a reason—the texture and starch can dramatically cut back on your heat.
8. Breathe through your mouth while you eat.
In between each bite, exhale slowly to blow the heat away. If you clamp down tight and try to grit your teeth through the pain, you’re only going to make it worse. Exhale slowly to cool your mouth out and do your best not to blow air all over the person sitting across from you. This is one of those little things that most people don’t think about, but it can really make a world of difference.
This can also help on a psychological level. If you’re really in pain, picture yourself literally blowing the pepper flakes into the air. The visualization may help take the edge off.
9. Consume something buttery or cheesy to cool your stomach.
Saturated fat from dairy will combat any residual heat in your digestive tract. After you finish your dish, snack on a few cubes of cheese or have a yogurt. A cool bowl of ice cream may be the perfect dessert if you’re still tearing up from the spice. Some buttery popcorn or buttered toast may also help if you prefer starches to dairy.
Something like cheesecake is a great option if you’re trying to hit all of your marks. It’s got plenty of saturated fat, some starch, and a large dose of dairy.
10. Take an antacid or eat something ahead of time if spice upsets your stomach.
Capsaicin can really upset your stomach if it’s empty and unprotected. If you are heading out on the town with some friends to grab some spicy food, eat an antacid ahead of time to keep your stomach from being turned upside down. Alternatively, you can have a small snack, like a sandwich or a side of mashed potatoes, to fill your stomach up and give the capsaicin something to latch on to when it gets to your gut.
Don’t overdo it with the antacids. Taking too many can mess with the way your stomach produces acids. It’s fine to take an antacid as a preemptive measure every now and then, but don’t start popping them every day if you’re spending a month in Thailand or something like that.
11. Remember that it will all be over soon.
The heat from spicy food only takes 15 minutes to dissipate. If your mouth is on fire, just remind yourself that this feeling isn’t going to last forever. A large part of handling spicy food is having the mental fortitude to fight through it. If you’re reading this after eating something extremely spicy and wondering how you could ever adapt to this feeling, come back after 15 minutes to see how you feel then!
While it may be rough on your stomach if you have a preexisting condition, like IBS, you aren’t in any serious danger if you’ve eaten something spicy. If you’re freaking out a bit right now, just take a deep breath. You’ll feel better soon.


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