Is Putting Hot Sauce On Everything You Eat Bad For You?

photographed by Anna Jay.
Ice cream is the only food that I will not put sriracha on — although, that does sound like it would be delicious. Bagels, salads, stir-fry, sandwiches, noodles, eggs, vegetables, soup, sushi, sweet potatoes, avocados, burritos, you name it, I will grab my bottle of sriracha and drizzle it with red chilli sauce until it's the perfect ratio of sweet and hot for my palette. I would put it right into my veins if I could. But every now and then, when I'm burning my taste buds off with sriracha, I do wonder if eating hot sauce with every meal is somehow bad for me.
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This is a complicated question to answer, but it's helpful to start with what exactly sriracha is. Traditional sriracha is a hot sauce made from sun-ripened chillis, sugar, salt, vinegar, and some additives and preservatives that keep it shelf-stable. In terms of macronutrients, sriracha does not bring much to the table; the sauce contains infinitesimal carbohydrates, and that's about it. So, sriracha is pretty much just there for the taste.
Obviously, salt and sugar are required to achieve the specific salty-sweet taste of sriracha. A one-teaspoon serving size contains 80 milligrams of sodium, and one gram of sugar. "To put that into perspective, ketchup contains about the same amount of sugar and a little more than half the sodium of sriracha," says Tracy Lockwood, MS, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian in New York City. Not to mention, "it is super important to consider how unrealistic a one-teaspoon serving size actually is," she says. Most of us likely use around two tablespoons of sriracha when we put it on foods, which takes you to around 400mg of added sodium, she says.
This isn't an alarming amount of sodium, but over the course of a day, and then over the course of a lifetime, it could add up. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that people eat less than 2,300mg of sodium per day. And according to the American Heart Association (AHA), nine out of 10 adults consume excess amounts of sodium. If you were to squirt two-tablespoons of sriracha on your eggs in the morning, you'd already have eaten 2% of the recommended daily allowance, Lockwood says. And if you're adding sriracha to most meals, that could hurt you long term, she says.
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"A diet high in sodium can cause fluid retention, electrolyte imbalances, and sometimes bloating," Lockwood says. We know that when you consume sodium, it pulls water into your bloodstream, which increases your blood pressure, according to the AHA. Over time, high blood pressure can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. So, these are some very real reasons to be aware of the amount of sodium — and sriracha — you're consuming on a daily basis.
At the end of the day, eating sriracha is probably not going to kill you, but it's also not amazing for your health. In addition to the amount of sodium, the garlic and chillis in sriracha could trigger heartburn. Or some people might experience gastrointestinal disturbances — like nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhoea — from eating chillis, so it's not for everyone.
As for those who say that hot sauce is good for you? There has been some research that suggests that chillis contain a compound called capsaicin, which could increase your metabolism. "However, in order to notice these metabolic benefits, you'd have to eat unsafe and potentially dangerously high amounts of capsaicin, and your digestive system won't be pleased," Lockwood says. Same goes for the small amounts of vitamin C, A, B6, K1, potassium, and copper, she says.
Of course, we eat foods for more than just nutrients and fuel. If it wasn't abundantly clear, I love the taste of sriracha. "I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to put this condiment onto your meals, especially if you are putting it on healthy foods likes whole grains, vegetables and eggs," Lockwood says. "Plus, it helps mask the taste of these 'healthy' foods for those who don’t have an intrinsic taste for healthier foods." If you want to add a kick to your food, then you might want to consider using spices instead, which might have less sodium, she says. But then again, research suggests that when you eat foods that you like, your body absorbs the nutrients better — which is enough for me to keep using sriracha.
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