Indians have been eating spices for ages and most of the spices are believed to be good for digestion. However, time and again people (mostly new to Indian food) have complained about Indian spices making them sick.
Yes, Indian spices can make you sick or cause discomfort. There can be different reasons for this discomfort and sickness like too much use of chili, eating Indian food for the first time, improper hygiene. Whenever eating out make sure that you let your server know the heat level you are comfortable with. Avoid anything that is not cooked in heat like chutneys and yogurt dishes like raita. Presence of allergens like dairy, nuts and gluten is common in Indian food. If you are sensitive to any of these then make sure you check with your server before hand about the ingredients of the food you are about to consume.
Here is an article that performed study of relation between spicy food and Irritable Bowel Syndrome and they confirmed that there is a relation.
Too much chili heat can make you sick
The heat in chili comes from a compound called capsaicin, which is water insoluble compound and if overindulged can inflame or burn the lining of the stomach.
The heat from chilis can also cause stomach ulcers, digestive unrest along with a burning sensation in the digestive tract due to hot capsaicin.
It can also cause heartburn where the digestive acids from the stomach reflux into the food pipe.
If indigestion and heartburn wasn’t enough, capsaicin heat also sets the anus on fire.
I once made something called Chili salan, using chili as the main ingredient of the dish and everyone who ate it got an upset tummy. Learnt my lesson, never again!
Chilis should be used as the complimentary flavor and not the main one. If the food is too hot and causing a burning sensation then its to refrain from eating it.
While chili is the hottest Indian spice, there are few others that can be responsible for the heat as well. We have listed all the hot Indian spices here.
Eating Indian spices and food for the first time can make you sick
While Indian food has lot of spices in it, it also uses dairy and nuts. Before eating anything make sure to check the ingredients. Check so that you unknowingly don’t eat something that does not go well with your gut.
In lot of curries, dairy (yogurt and cream) and nuts(usually cashews) are used to give them a rich texture. These might still be there even if you cant see them as they are grounded into paste.
Its best to ask the cook or chef about the ingredients used, especially if you are intolerant to something.
Sometimes its not the ingredients and just the gut, because it has not been exposed to all these different spices before. The new flavors throw the gut off and that can cause discomfort and sometimes diarrhea.
Improper Hygiene when cooking can cause sickness too
This is more relevant when you are eating street food in India. If you are travelling in India, then eating street food or in restaurants that don’t maintain hygiene can make you sick.
The sickness is caused not by the spicy food but the pathogens and bacteria. When eating out eat food cooked in heat only as that kills the pathogens.
Refrain from eating anything that has not been cooked/heated like chutneys, yogurt.
My little ones were born overseas and both of them get sick when we travel to India. Both of them do not have immunity to Indian pathogens due to non exposure.
We only gave them home cooked food, washed their hands often especially before a meal. But that did not cut it and both got diarrhea in each of our trips. It was mostly due to them being little and not being careful with putting hand in their mouths.
To summarize, if eating in India then:-
- Eat food that has been cooked on high temperature
- Don’t eat anything that has not been cooked like salads, yogurt
- Maintain hygiene and wash hands as often as you can.
Have Indian spices caused discomfort to you? Which Indian food your gut not agree with ?
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