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Spicy Hot Snacks: A Recipe For Disaster

Hot snacks may be causing problems for kids with other health issues. Dr. Cary Cavender, gastroenterologist and Associate Professor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, discusses what kind of damage these hot snacks can cause a child.
Spicy Hot Snacks: A Recipe For Disaster
Cary Cavender, MD
Cary Cavender, MD is a Gastroenterologist at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital , Associate Professor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

Learn more about Cary Cavender, MD

Bill Klaproth (Host): Hot snacks, these flaming hot Cheetos and Takis are sending kids to the hospital but are they safe to eat? Hmm. I’m Bill Klaproth and on this episode of the Peds Pod by Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, where pediatric experts explore topics affecting children’s health including complex cases and innovations on the healthcare horizon; we talk Hot Snacks, A Recipe for Disaster. My guest is Dr. Cary Cavender, a gastroenterologist at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital. He is also an Associate Professor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. Dr. Cavender, thanks for your time.

Cary Cavender, MD (Guest): Oh, great to be here. Appreciate your time as well.

Host: Well thank you Dr. Cavender. So, let’s talk about these hot snacks, if you will. What are the symptoms that bring these kids to the hospital?

Dr. Cavender: Well it can come in a number of ways, but we primarily see two settings where these kids present. One is in our GI clinic for kids with chronic complaints of abdominal pain and or reflux symptoms. The second is actually in the Emergency Room for more acute issues if you will.

Host: Oh my. So, the symptoms can be so severe that somebody comes to the Emergency Room. So, what kind of damage can eating hot snacks cause a child?

Dr. Cavender: Well for us it’s one of our first questions that we ask the families when taking a history is, have they been consuming these spicy chips because it’s fairly epidemic out there and I’m not sure why, but they seem to be very addicting and so, school aged kids are probably the biggest demographic of those. But we see them in clinic with complaints of abdominal pain and it’s the leading cause of gastritis that we can identify in patients with chronic abdominal pain at this point. Almost all of them have had an exposure to hot chips and some of them excessively so.

Generally, bright red in the powder that coats the chips, so that that’s part of what brings them to the Emergency Room sometimes is that they’ll have eaten not one chip, but usually the whole bag and the main bag that’s available out there is size that is what they would call four servings which all of them eat the whole bag. But with that irritation, they will then throw up and of course it’s fiery red looking when they do so. Sometimes accompanied with blood but it’s fairly intense. So, that is a literal red flag and it brings them into he Emergency Room fairly quick.

Host: Sounds intense. Is this a peer pressure thing like I bet you can’t eat these things dude and maybe they yeah, I can and then they eat a whole bag and then of course you know what happens. So, you were saying it’s this red powder that’s coating these snacks. Does that red powder damage the body or what can it do the body?

Dr. Cavender: Well a lot depends on the amount of exposure and if there are other things the kids are eating at the same time and or drinking. So, caffeinated beverages usually don’t help. They’ll aggravate the symptoms. But Scoville units are the measures of the degree of hotness if you will inside of a pepper, say a jalapeño pepper might have a Scoville unit rating of 300-400 so some of these chips are going up above 1000 – 1500 Scoville units. So, it’s like eating – entering a jalapeño eating contest on steroids to a degree. But most of the kids are not – don’t appear to be doing this out of peer pressure. It’s a strange draw towards real spicy foods.

Host: Holy cow. That is really hot Dr. Cavender. My goodness. So, how many patients come to Le Bonheur after eating these snacks?

Dr. Cavender: I would say we – in our outpatient clinics see 50-100 kids a month related to chronic abdominal pain of which the hot snacks are a component. And you can go – there’s a probably the most famous music video about these are made by some school-aged kids and you can search it on YouTube Hot Cheetos and Takis and it’s a little rap video about how addictive they are to them with I think somewhere above 12 million views at this point.

Host: Yeah, I watched it. It’s got that many views. Wow. So, is it just hot chips or could eating other hot foods cause similar problems? But it sounds like these are even hotter than some of the hottest hot foods you could eat.

Dr. Cavender: Yeah, so they’re – I guess it relates to them being undiluted if you will. So, real spicy or real fatty foods empty from the stomach slower so that keeps them hanging around longer to cause more mischief and so if they’re having a bag of Takis, then they may have a fairly intense exposure and those chips will hang around for a couple of hours in there. Because there’s not nerves in the lining part of the stomach, they are in the muscle layer on the outside; it takes six hours really to notice any direct irritation as far as your stomach goes. So, most kids don’t associate the abdominal pain they’re having with eating of the hot chips because it’s hour later and they’ve eaten other things or done other stuff in between.

But it can be compounded by being a little dehydrated so if they are not drinking enough or if they are drinking things that fuel the fire as well like energy drinks or caffeinated beverages. That will tend to aggravate it as well.

Host: That sounds like a potent combination. So, is moderation key at this point?

Dr. Cavender: Well, I would say so. Most kids have a difficult time integrating healthy foods into their diet as it is and kids who have exposure to these tend to get what they might have in a more healthy way supplanted because they’re eating sometimes in a mindless way these hot chips or other snacks and so, less is certainly better and we tell all the kids we see that are having problems to avoid them altogether.

Host: Well that seems like a good message. And lastly, Dr. Cavender if you could wrap it up for us then speaking of what to tell the kids. how about for the parent listening to this podcast right now, what’s your best advice for them, just stay away altogether?

Dr. Cavender: Sure. Well my first advice would be is to ask the kids about their exposure to the hot chips. Because kids can get them at any school even if the family doesn’t have them at home. So, I have a couple of patients who are also hot chip dealers at their school so they – one says he makes $20 a day selling hot chips at his school. So, just being aware that they are around and asking about them and then certainly avoiding purchasing them in the first place would be a great start.

Host: Well, that’s good information and great advice for parents who may be dealing with a child that loves to eat these hot Cheetos and Takis. Dr. Cavender, thank you so much for your time today. To learn more about Le Bonheur visit and are you ready to hear more? Well then be sure to subscribe to the Peds Pod in Apple Podcasts, Google Play or wherever you listen to your podcasts. You can also check out to view our full podcast library. This is the Peds Pod by Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital. I’m Bill Klaproth. Thanks for listening.