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When Eating Spicy Foods – Should You Drink Water?

Dr. Kristie Leong

Do you enjoy the taste of spicy foods - and wonder what makes them so hot? It’s an ingredient called capsaicin that gives spicy foods their special ’kick’. Most spicy food lovers have at one time or other, put a pepper in their mouth that was too hot to handle. To put out the red-hot flames in their scorched mouth, they reached for a glass of cold water. Was this smart? Is it a good idea to drink cold water if you eat spicy food?

Food Too Spicy: Hold Off on the Water Glass

Guzzling a glass of ice water sounds like the best way to ease the burning that comes from eating spicy foods, but you may not get much relief - even if the water is ice-cold. The 'heat' in hot peppers and other spicy foods meld with the oils used to prepare them. When you eat a bite of spicy food, these oils coat your mouth and tongue. Since oil doesn’t dissolve in water, even cold water is unlikely to remove the oily film on your tongue that heats up your mouth when you eat spicy foods.

Eating Spicy Foods: What Should You Wash It Down With?

Even though capsaicin isn’t compatible with water, it will dissolve in alcohol. On the other hand, it’s probably not a good idea to guzzle down an alcoholic drink just to put out the flames - especially if you’re driving. A better drink to sip after eating spicy foods is milk - and whole milk is better than skim milk since it contains less water. It pays to keep a glass of milk on hand when you're tempted by food that’s too spicy.

Another way to fan the flames of too spicy food is to eat a spoonful of yogurt. It’s the power of dairy again working to counteract the burning effects of capsaicin. If you're eating spicy food in an Indian restaurant, order a mango lassi - a sweet mixture of yogurt, milk, and mango. It’s perfect for soothing a burning mouth that comes from eating spicy foods - and it tastes great too.

Eating Too Spicy Food: The Bottom Line?

Don’t reach for the water when your mouth is burning from eating spicy foods, drink something milk-based instead - you’ll feel the sweet relief a whole lot faster.

References: The Straight Dope. 'Why Water Won’t Help After Eating Spicy Food'

Health Disclaimer. Copyright ©2010. Dr. Kristie Leong is a family practice physician and medical writer. Published with permission.