Considering the condiment is only a microscopic zero to five calories per teaspoon, even those who are on a strict diet don’t really have to think twice about piling it on their plate whenever they want to turn up the heat.
And who can blame them?
Considering the condiment is only a microscopic zero to five calories per teaspoon, even those who are on a strict diet don’t really have to think twice about piling it on their plate whenever they want to turn up the heat. But can a daily dose of hot sauce be bad for your health?
“Like many things in nutrition (and life!), there are two sides to every coin,” says Lauren Antonucci, R.D.N., a board-certified sports dietitian, and owner/director of Nutrition Energy, a nutrition consulting practice in New York City.
Before you start pouring it on until your eyes start to water, check out what the professionals have to say about excessive hot sauce consumption—and whether or not they think it’s a hot idea.
Most hot sauces are made of a scant few ingredients: hot peppers (chili, jalapeño, habanero, or others, depending on the brand), salt, and vinegar. The peppers are naturally loaded with a chemical compound called capsaicin, which gives the veggies their signature spicy flavor. The effects of capsaicin on human health have been studied by scientists far and wide, and the results have been pretty positive so far.
“Capsaicin has been shown in animal research and epidemiological studies to have a myriad of benefits,” says Antonucci. She says studies have shown it can be beneficial for heart health and protect against gastric cancer, in addition to slowing the growth of some cancer cells.
Capsaicin could also have some serious weight-loss benefits, including speeding up your metabolism and suppressing your appetite. However, more evidence is still needed before docs can vouch for the pounds-melting properties of hot peppers.
“There are some studies that have found that ingesting capsaicin may increase metabolism, but the effects are modest, and not significant enough to warrant a recommendation to eat hot sauce for weight loss,” says Heather Mangieri, R.D.N., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and author of Fueling Young Athletes.
According to Toyia James-Stevenson, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Indiana University Health, capsaicin is even used in pain management—some topical treatments use the ingredient to ease musculoskeletal aches like knee arthritis.
As if the list of pros wasn't already long enough, peppers also pack some serious vitamin C, which can help support your immune system and improve the symptoms of the common cold or flu, says Antonucci.
Unfortunately, slapping vast amounts of hot sauce onto your food has its drawbacks too—namely its high salt content.
While some of the research linking excess sodium to heart and blood pressure issues has been overblown, the fact still remains that eating too much salt can cause bloating and headaches.
“It’s important to be mindful of the sodium,” says Mangieri. “Just one teaspoon of certain brands contains about 190 milligrams of it or more, an amount that can add up quickly if you’re not careful."
It's recommended that we consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, so if you're getting fast and loose with the hot sauce (because who measures out hot sauce?), that can add up quickly.
Mouth on fire from hot sauce? This water bottle hack will keep you hydrated (and cool you down):
"If you’re adding hot sauce to fresh foods, such as lean proteins or vegetables that have a relatively low or no salt content, you can be a bit more generous," says Mangieri. "But if you are trying to limit sodium in your diet, you will want to look for a low-sodium variety.”
Excess sodium consumption from any source, whether its hot sauce or soy sauce, can have negative health effects on people who already have heart conditions.
“Patients with salt-sensitive disorders like hypertension, congestive heart failure, kidney, or liver failure should consult with their physician to determine how much salt is safe to consume,” says James-Stevenson.
“Healthy individuals should not only monitor whether or not they experience symptoms like diarrhea or abdominal cramping, but whether they are ingesting too much salt by eating more than a modest amount of hot sauce.”
If you have a sensitive tummy or suffer from conditions like frequent heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), you might also want to think twice before going overboard with the condiment. Spicy peppers can increase acidity and encourage inflammation of the stomach lining.
“Cayenne stimulates acid production, so the hyperacidity can promote acid reflux, which can cause burning sensations in the esophagus,” says Lisa Ganjhu, M.D., a gastroenterologist at NYU Langone Health.
That’s not to say hot sauce causes these conditions—just that it wouldn’t help your symptoms if you already have them.
“If you have gastritis bad enough, it can cause some stomach ulcerations. But that would be in people who are susceptible to it; there may be people who eat hot sauce every day and have no problems with it," says Ganjhu.
So, all things considered, is it bad for you to put hot sauce on everything? The answer: Listen to your body. Experts agree that if it’s not adversely affecting you in any way, go ahead and have at it.
“Eat as much as you can tolerate and enjoy,” says Ketan Shah, M.D., gastroenterologist at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills, Calif.
“There is no significant downside to eating hot sauce or spicy foods regularly, as long as it is not resulting in significant side effects. If you notice adverse effects, such as heartburn, abdominal pain, diarrhea, or anorectal discomfort, then back down.”
There’s no set standard as to how much hot sauce is too much. So, if you want to play it safe, your best bet is to use it within reason. “We don’t have definite safe amounts set, so it’s hard to set a limit,” says Tara Collingwood, R.D.N., team dietician for the Orlando Magic and nutrition consultant for UCF Athletics. “If you like it and don’t have any major side effects, enjoy it in moderation. Too much of anything is not good!”