Vrinda Kumar, M.D.

Vrinda Kumar, M.D.

Crunchy junk foods have always been tempting “treats” among young and old alike, and let’s be honest…we all indulge every now and then even though we know that these processed, fried, crunchy snacks are terrible for us. Over the past few years, however, there has been an evolution of this genre of foods that now involves the “Flamin’ Hot” flavors and other “flaming” or “spicy” flavors of cheese puffs, potato chips and even popcorn.

It turns out that these savory snacks may be the WORST of the worst snack foods, especially for our children. These spicy snacks contain cayenne powder in addition to the usual offenders found in crunchy junk foods (sodium, fat, oil, preservatives).

The spicy heat (cayenne) in these snacks release endorphins in the body, which are the same substances released by the body in response to exercise or in response to basically anything that makes the body feel good or makes us feel “warm and fuzzy.” Fatty/greasy foods do the same (which is why “comfort foods” are exactly that, ”comforting” and most of these tend to be unhealthy as well). When something causes the body to release endorphins, the body wants more of that thing. So, in turn, these fatty, fried, salty, spicy foods become ADDICTIVE.

Flamin’ Hot snacks are fried, salty, and spicy, so these tend to be REALLY addictive. The fact that these snacks are mostly fried, they can lead to significant weight gain quickly. The high sodium in these snacks can lead to high blood pressure, especially in children. The spice can cause stomach pain and gut irritation. Not only can this dangerous trifecta of fat, spice, and sodium cause/worsen symptoms of indigestion (acid reflux), but eating enough of these can cause gastritis (inflammation on the lining of the stomach). Severe gastritis can eventually lead to stomach bleeding or even ulcers.

There are a lot of unhealthy snacks surrounding us, and we should probably try to stay away from most, if not all, of them. With the rising popularity of spicy crunchy snacks, it is important to acknowledge that these, in particular, may be causing children significant
health issues and should be avoided completely.