Excerpt from Valley 101: A Slightly Skewed Guide to Living in Arizona, a collection of Clay Thompson’s columns for The Arizona Republic. (Originally published April 30, 2000.)
Q: My husband insists that eating hot, spicy food during hot weather actually helps you cool off. He is wrong about so many things. Please tell him he is wrong about this. I think he’s going to
give himself a stroke.
A: Sorry, lady. He got this one right. Why do you think a lot of spicy dishes come from hot places, such as Mexico or Thailand or India?
Ever think of that? Huh?
When you eat spicy food all sorts of things happen. Your body decides to cool off. Blood vessels close to the surface of your skin, especially on your face and neck, expand so the blood can throw off heat.
Your internal temperature goes down while your skin temperature goes up. You sweat, and as the sweat evaporates it cools you off.
And the longer you live in hot weather, the better your body gets at doing all that. That’s why when it’s cold around here, you hear people saying their blood has thinned out. Your body is just used to cooling off, not warming up.
It’s kind of the reverse of why drinking alcohol isn’t a good idea in hot weather. Aside from the fact it makes you stupid, alcohol constricts your blood vessels so it’s harder for your body to carry heat out from your insides.
So, amazing as it may be, your husband is apparently right about this one. Don’t feel bad. As you said, he’s probably wrong about plenty of other things.
While we’re on the subject, do you know why water never seems to help if you’ve just set your mouth on fire with a big bite of spicy food?
Because a lot of spicy foods have a lot of oil in them and are often cooked in oil. It coats your lips and tongue and throat, and since oil and water don’t mix, that big glass of ice water you just swallowed
doesn’t wash away the hot stuff. Milk works and so does alcohol, but if neither of those appeal, a piece of bread or a tortilla will smother the flames.