Are Flamin' Hot Cheetos and Other Spicy Snacks Safe to Eat?
On Tuesday, rapper Lil Xan revealed that he had to go to the hospital for stomach problems due to, he alleges, the spicy snack Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
“Yeah, I went to the hospital today. … I just want to let everyone know I was in the hospital not due to any drugs, but I guess I ate too many Hot Cheetos, and it ripped something in my stomach open,” he said on Instagram.
His account isn’t unfamiliar to doctors, who say that they’ve seen kids come in complaining of stomach pains and constipation. Dr. Jaime Friedman, a pediatrician with Children’s Primary Care Medical Group in San Diego, tells PEOPLE that she frequently saw such patients when she worked in the ER.
“I’ve seen plenty of kids with stomach pain, pain when they poop, constipation — and the common denominator is that they eat the Takis or the Hot Cheetos,” she says. “And I can tell, because they have the orange-ish-red staining under their fingernails. I look at their hands and say I know that they’re eating the Hot Cheetos. It’s a dead giveaway.”
Frito-Lay, the makers of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, tells PEOPLE in a statement that the product — which was famously invented in 1976 by a janitor at the company — has been cleared as safe to eat.
“At Frito-Lay, we aim to delight our consumers and food safety is always our number one priority. Flamin’ Hot Cheetos meet all applicable food safety regulations, as well as our rigorous quality standards. That said, we realize some consumers may be more sensitive to spicy foods than others and may choose to moderate consumption or avoid spicier snacks due to personal preference.”
Dr. Friedman says that she isn’t sure what ingredients in these hot snacks cause the stomach issues, but feels that the spice is the likely culprit.
“I don’t know what the actual chemical component is that makes it hot, but I’m sure that if it’s burning in your mouth, it can burn other parts of your GI tract as well — there’s no reason to expect that it wouldn’t,” she says. “So it’s not surprising to me at all that the consumption of Hot Cheetos or Takis are indeed linked to stomachaches.”
And Chicago-based dietitian and member of PEOPLE’s Health Squad Dawn Jackson Blatner believes that the spice, along with the lack of nutrients, is likely causing problems.
“They have zero nutrition, are packed with fat and the seasoning is lots of salt, artificial colors and citric acid — all of which may irritate a digestive tract,” Blatner says.
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But she emphasizes that Flamin’ Hot Cheetos aren’t likely to cause gallbladder problems — as one mom and daughter alleged in July — or other issues on their own.
“People going to the hospital with gastritis, or stomach inflammation, and gallbladder problems are definitely not due to just one food, but it’s a symptom of an overall unhealthy diet with high fat, low nutrition foods and not enough fruits and vegetables,” Blatner says.
She and Dr. Friedman agree, though, that the best solution is to cut spicy junk foods out of a child’s diet.
“The parents are in control. The parents buy the food. Kids may get it from vending machines or convenience stores, but what’s in the home, and what the parents provide, is in their control,” Dr. Friedman says. “I look at the parents and say: just don’t buy it.”
And she believes that kids will learn from the experience.
“A lot of kids will know that if they feel bad eating it, they’re just naturally not going to eat it,” Dr. Friedman says. “I tell them that they need to cut that out. A lot of times, that makes a really big difference. It may not be the only reason they’re having stomach pains, but it definitely plays a large role.”
It seems, though, that Lil Xan isn’t ready to give them up — he happily ate a Flamin’ Hot Cheetos two days after his hospital visit.
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