Most everyone knows spicy chips and snack foods have virtually no nutritive value, but now doctors are reporting these super spicy snacks are causing kids and some adults to go into the ER with gastritis, an inflamed stomach lining, or other stomach ailments.
What concerns doctors is that spicy snack foods can change the pH balance in the stomach, making it painfully acidic.
Dr. Martha Rivera, a pediatrician at White Memorial Medical Center in Los Angeles, said she sees between five and six cases of children with gastritis daily.
“We have a population who loves to eat the hot spicy, not real foods, and they come in with these real complaints,” Rivera told ABC News.
According to Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency room physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, it’s the flavor coating in the chips and snacks causing the stomach pH to change, rather than just the spiciness of the snacks.
For example, Dr. Robert Glatter said he hasn’t had a lot of people coming in doubled over from eating too much spicy salsa.
“In the past, I had not seen any problems with snack food until spicy flavoring became more popular,” said Glatter.
Glatter said it wasn’t just the high fat or high salt content that the kids or adolescents crave but the actual burn of the spicy flavoring.
“It’s almost like a food addiction. They seek out the burn,” said Glatter. “It’s a little thrill-seeking. ‘It’s like how much can I tolerate?’ and I’ve seen a number of children who eat four or five bags and come in screaming in pain.”
The sale of some spicy snacks such as Flamin’ Hot Cheetos have been banned by multiple school districts on school grounds.
ABC News notes that Frito Lay, which makes and sells the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, said it is “committed to responsible and ethical practices, which includes not marketing our products to children age 12 and under.”
But most major food companies circumvent their pledge not to pay for unhealthy food ads in children’s programing by placing their product brands in prime-time shows that are viewed by children.
In 2011, a Yale study revealed food companies that pledged not to market unhealthy food and beverages directly to children are using product placement on television shows instead.
The Yale study analyzed Nielsen media data from 2008 and found some 35,000 brand placements had appeared on prime-time television that year.
Glatter recommends that parents keep an eye on their children so they don’t overdose on spicy snacks, and stick to vegetables and other healthy snacks instead.
“Parents should be aware of this. These products are not healthy and some children seem to become addicted,” said Glatter.