Here’s a bizarre fact: eating cold food is not very good for you. It’s baffling when we think about how good it feels to drink ice water or enjoy an ice cream cone on a warm day. But, as we think back to the evolution of humans, we can see that cold food has only very recently been a thing. As it turns out, our bodies did not evolve to handle chilled nourishment very well.
Need more evidence? We have collected five of the most surprising dangers of eating cold food.
1. Digestive Distress
The process of digestion works most smoothly when food is at body temperature, somewhere around 100 degrees. When you eat or drink something cold, the body must pull energy from other systems in order to quickly warm it up for digestion. This is why cold food might make you feel fatigued, mentally foggy, or physically stiff.
Cold food may also contribute to incomplete digestion in the stomach, which causes digestive distress down the line and may result in bloating, gas, or diarrhea. Blood vessels in the stomach contract when they come into contact with cold food, slowing down blood flow and weakening the muscle response that moves food around the stomach.
Because digestion relies on digestive enzymes in the stomach, if food isn’t moved around enough, it won’t be thoroughly surrounded by these enzymes and thus leave the stomach partially undigested.
2. Organ Damage
Over time, constant exposure to cold food can lead to deterioration of organs like the spleen, liver, or pancreas. That’s because blood flow is restricted when the body is working to warm up cold food enough to digest it. These organs may also not get as much energy as they need to efficiently play their parts in the digestive process.
Now, this is not something to worry about when you enjoy an occasional fruit smoothie. But you may want to start drinking your water at room temperature and storing fruits and vegetables that you eat raw in the pantry instead of the refrigerator. It’s just one easy way to keep your entire body functioning optimally as you age.
3. Improper Immune Response
The immune system is also impacted by frequent exposure to cold food. This is dangerous because when our immune response is weak, we are less able to fight off the germs that float our way. Another concern is that the immune system may be overtaxed by the effort to deal with digestive issues like bloating, gas, bacterial infections, or overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut.
Even though a strong immune system is critical to overall health, there are aspects of its function that actually cause more problems than they solve. Chronic inflammation, meant to seal off damaged parts of the body from healthy parts, contributes to the development of disease over the long term.
Reducing the amount of cold food that you eat is just one way to keep your immune system on track and less likely to over or under react to stimuli.
4. Weight Gain
Because cold food may not be properly digested, if you eat a lot of it, you’re depriving your body of critical nutrients. That can result in fatigue, which signals to the body that you need more food. You may be more prone to mindless snacking in order to fill the void, which quickly leads to unintended weight gain. An overtaxed liver will also store more energy as fat.
This is not something that happens every time you eat cold food, or something that necessarily affects everyone. It’s just something to be aware of. If you find yourself snacking more often, or feeling hungrier than normal, consider whether you’ve upped your intake of cold food and beverages.
5. Brain Freeze
Of course, everyone knows what brain freeze feels like. It’s basically several minutes of agony. Brain freeze does not usually cause lasting damage, but any kind of pain causes stress hormones to be released into your blood stream. Over time, excess stress can cause a hormonal imbalance and weaken the immune system.
Brain freeze happens when cold food touches a group of nerves at the back of the palate, which then send signals that spark a headache. Interestingly, this group of nerves is also associated with migraines and cluster headaches. With brain freeze, the pain goes away when that bundle of nerves warms back up.
For that reason, some migraine sufferers deliberately cause a brain freeze when they have a headache. It doesn’t work for everyone, but in some cases, the entire headache will abate when the brain freeze resolves.
Want to impress your friends? Memorize this technical term for brain freeze: sphenolopalatine ganglioneuralgia. There’s a mouthful for you!
Eating cold food is certainly not as risky as eating unhealthy food, and skipping out on drinking water is not good, either. So if you really don’t like your water or your fruit at room temperature, it’s okay. The issues with cold food are likely to bother some people more than others, and changing that habit is one smart strategy for those who struggle with any of the conditions we’ve described here.