Have you ever wondered why a delicious meal or an afternoon snack are often followed by an unexplained PDES? (Public Display of Excessive Sweating).
Sweaty armpits and clammy palms are just a few of the places this inconvenient sweat might rear it’s ugly head.
Sweating after eating is annoying and embarrassing. It can leave you feeling like you’re forever doomed to eating takeout and dining alone.
You’re probably asking yourself: Why me?
What does it mean when you sweat after eating? Is this normal, or is it an indication of a hidden health problem?
In this article we'll explore common reasons for "food sweats" and show you 8 foods that can trigger excessive sweating.
Why do I sweat after I eat?
So, there are two primary reasons why you sweat during or after eating.
- The Types of Food You’re Eating
- An Underlying Medical Condition
Foods That Make You Sweat
Can what you eat really make you sweat? In short, yes. Several foods can trigger a sweat reaction. Often, these trigger foods have different biological reasons for making you sweat.
- 1. Spicy Foods
- 2. Caffeine and Coffee
- 3. Alcohol
- 4. Sugar & Carbs
- 5. Meats & Protein
- 6. Hot food & drink
- 7. Processed junk food
- 8. Cigarettes
Now that you know what types of food can cause excess sweating, keep reading to learn why each food can add to your sweat problems...
1. Spicy Foods
According to Dr. Barry Green, Professor of Surgery (Otolaryngology) and former Director of The John B. Pierce Laboratory, there’s a reason that you sweat after eating spicy things.
He says, “The answer hinges on the fact that spicy foods excite the receptors in the skin that normally respond to heat … which triggers] the physical reactions of heat, including vasodilation, sweating, and flushing.”
Essentially, the capsaicin, a chemical found in spicy foods, tricks your body into thinking it’s actually hot, which causes your body to sweat.
Experts believe that caffeine induces sweat thanks to its effect on your central nervous system. It spikes your blood pressure and increases your heart rate, which causes the physiological sweat response.
There was a research study posted in the Journal of Medicinal Food which specifically studied coffee’s effect on athletes that supports this theory.
According to MD Health, there are a few reasons why alcohol might cause an uptick in sweat production.
First, alcohol causes your blood vessels to dilate, which, in turn, causes your skin to heat up. A warm body results in sweat. This reaction is most common when you drink more than the recommended amount.
Alternatively, some people can’t tolerate alcohol at all. They lack the necessary enzyme our bodies require to break down alcohol.
This condition primarily affects Asian populations. It’s also typically accompanied by flushing of the skin, gastrointestinal distress, and headaches.
Finally, alcohol withdrawal can cause excessive sweating. If you’re alcohol-dependent and suddenly stop drinking, you will be prone to excessive sweating.
You will probably also experience other symptoms like rapid heart rate, tremors, anxiety, vomiting, and if severely dependent, seizures.
If you believe you have an alcohol dependency issue, visit SAMHSA, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for free resources and advice.
Alcohol also contains a large amount of sugars and carbs which leads us to our next point...
4. Sugar and Carbs
If you consume an especially sugary snack or carb-heavy meal, your blood sugar can spike.
To combat that rise in blood sugar, your body releases a hormone called insulin. If your insulin levels get too high, it causes something called hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, which can cause sweating.
If this happens frequently, it’s worth a visit to your doctor, because it could be a sign of diabetes (more on that later).
5. Protein (Meat Sweats)
There isn’t extensive research done on meat’s effect on sweating. What we do know is that digestion takes up about 25% of our energy, and protein requires more energy than other foods to digest.
Biochemistry graduate, and carbohydrate metabolic specialist, Keya Mukherjee says...
"Proteins are extremely complex molecules and require a lot more energy than fats or carbohydrates to metabolize... If you're eating a lot of protein…your body will be producing a lot of energy and a lot of heat. Of course, this could result in sweating."
6. Hot Foods and Drinks
This one might be a bit obvious, but warm foods and drinks can increase sweating, because they warm you up, causing you to sweat, usually around your lips, nose or forehead.
Interestingly, a researcher at the University of Ottawa’s School of Human Kinetics, Ollie Jay, says that hot foods and drinks increase sweat but can ultimately cool you down. He explains...
"What we found is that when you ingest a hot drink, you actually have a disproportionate increase in the amount that you sweat... but the amount that you increase your sweating by—if that can all evaporate—more than compensates for the added heat to the body from the fluid."
7. Processed Foods
Processed foods can cause sweating for the same reasons that proteins and sugars do. Most processed foods are high in fat and lack fiber making them difficult to digest.
Your body has to do a lot of work and expend tons of energy to digest them. This, in turn, increases your core temperature, resulting in sweat.
If the processed food is also full of sugar, it could be the hypoglycemic effect we talked about above. Ice cream, white starches, and takeout foods are big offenders here.
Alright, so cigarettes aren’t food. Don’t eat them (obviously), but they’re something you put in your mouth, so we thought they were worth mentioning.
Evidence suggests that smoking cigarettes can increase hot flashes, which results in perspiration.
Beyond that, the nicotine in cigarettes (and vapes) can trigger a sweat response due actions at acetylcholine nicotinic receptors in ganglia and in the skinNicotine can also increase anxiety, which is a known cause of sweating.
You don’t need us to tell you that quitting smoking is a good decision for your health. But know that quitting smoking and the subsequent nicotine withdrawals can also cause a temporary increase in sweating (this is due to the rebound vasodilation of your blood vessels).
So, if you recently quit smoking and are sweating a lot, stick with your quit. The sweating will subside.
9. Food Intolerances
All of the above common trigger foods aside, food intolerances and food allergies can make you sweat.
If you notice that you only sweat when you eat a particular food, you might have an intolerance or allergy to that food. Your doctor can run a test, or you can try an elimination diet to see if you have an allergy or intolerance.
All of these foods are common trigger foods. If you sweat a little more than usual while eating them, that’s pretty normal and usually nothing too concerning. However, if you experience excessive sweating after eating, then there might be more going on.
Gustatory Sweating - Food Sweats Caused by Medical Conditions
If you find yourself sweating excessively after eating, regardless of what you eat, you might have something called gustatory sweating.
Gustatory sweating is simply a medical term for food-related sweating. You might also hear it called gustatory hyperhidrosis.
When you sweat slightly more than usual after eating the trigger foods above, that’s just a normal bodily reaction. Gustatory sweating is different.
To qualify as gustatory sweating, it has to check one of the following boxes:
- You sweat an excessive amount with food
- You sweat while eating anything. It can even occur while you’re just thinking about food.
Gustatory sweating usually only occurs on the face, scalp, forehead, and neck. It doesn’t always have an identifiable cause, but it can indicate an underlying condition like diabetes, tumors, Parkinson’s disease, tuberculosis, or a viral infection.
Experts generally agree that gustatory sweating usually happens when there’s nerve damage that affects sweat production and sweat signals, though that’s not always the case. Sometimes gustatory sweating isn’t caused by anything.
Gustatory sweating is also confused for a condition called Frey’s Syndrome. Keep reading to learn more about this condition.
Understanding Frey’s Syndrome
We’re going to start by saying that Frey’s Syndrome is incredibly rare. There’s not an official statistic on how many cases there are, but research indicates that the number is very low (less than 10% of patients).
Like gustatory sweating, sufferers sweat after eating. And they generally sweat an excessive amount. However, unlike gustatory sweating, in Frey’s Syndrome, people usually only sweat from one side of their face.
Frey’s syndrome is caused by damage to the parotid glands (the largest saliva glands in your body) or the nerves surrounding them. They’re located right below the ears on each side of the face.
Damage occurs to these glands due to injuries, surgeries, infections, or nerve damage. The excessive sweating generally occurs on the side of the face with the injury.
It is thought to be due to regeneration of cut nerve fibers that innervate the sweat glands. (15)
Once these glands are damaged, the body gets confused and sweats in addition to producing saliva while eating. Unlike gustatory sweating, Frey’s syndrome acts up most with foods that create a strong salivary response, like citrus fruits.
Frey syndrome may occur two weeks to tow years after surgery or damage due to the time it takes to regenerate the nerve fibers (16)
If this doesn’t ring a bell, but you sweat a lot while eating, then Diabetes might be worth investigating.
Is Sweating After Eating a Sign of Diabetes?
Just because you sweat after you eat doesn’t immediately mean you have diabetes. However, it can be an indication or an early sign.
Like mentioned above, if you frequently sweat after eating sugary foods, this could be a sign of diabetes or pre-diabetes. Every time we eat something sweet, our bodies compensate by producing insulin to keep our blood sugar levels stable.
However, in diabetes or pre-diabetes, our bodies aren’t as effective at blood sugar control.
Instead, when the blood sugar rises, the body freaks out and produces too much insulin, sending the body into a hypoglycemic state. Sweating is a symptom of hypoglycemia and is caused by the malfunction of our “fight or flight” response.
If this happens frequently, it can be a sign of pre-diabetes or diabetes, and it’s worth a trip to the doctor.
Now, alternatively, if your blood sugar spikes too high and stays high for too long, you can lose nerve function, resulting in something called diabetic neuropathy.
Neuropathy is a loss of nerve function. Studies show that 36% of diabetes patients with neuropathy experience food-related sweating. The American Diabetes Association estimates that about half of diabetic patients have some level of nerve damage.
Additionally, in advanced diabetes, 69% of diabetics with nephropathy (kidney disease) also experience gustatory sweating.
Both neuropathy and nephropathy are usually only present in later stages of diabetes or in people with diabetes who haven’t been treating their disease. It’s unlikely that either of these are to blame if you don’t already have a diabetes diagnosis.
What if I Sweat All the Time, Not Just While Eating?
If you struggle with excessive perspiration all the time, you might have a medical condition called hyperhidrosis. That’s just doctor jargon for excessive sweating.
Hyperhidrosis affects around 15.3 million people in the United States. It’s not uncommon for the foods you eat to trigger a hyperhidrosis sweat episode.
Sure, I sweat when I eat, but how can I stop it?
We get it. You just want to eat... without the extra sweat. That’s totally reasonable and possible.
If certain foods trigger excessive sweating, it may be as simple as avoiding those foods when you can. You can also try replacing them with foods that reduce sweating.
If an underlying medical condition is causing your food sweats, getting treatment for the medical condition could help the sweat subside.
If you can't identify the cause of your inconvenient sweating or you think you might have hyperhidrosis, there are ways to treat profuse sweating. Clinical strength antiperspirants are a great place to start. Also, check out this comprehensive list of excessive sweating treatments to consider.
- 1. Scientific American https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-is-it-that-eating-spi/
- 2. Journal of Medicinal Food https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21883004
- 3. MD Health https://www.md-health.com/Alcohol-Sweating.html
- 4. SAMHSA https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline
- 5. Journal of Comparative Physiology https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18597096
- 6. LiveScience https://www.livescience.com/62932-meat-sweats-causes.html
- 7. Smithsonian Magazine https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/a-hot-drink-on-a-hot-day-can-cool-you-down-1338875/
- 8. US National Library of Medicine https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2673540/
- 9. PharmaNUS http://blog.nus.edu.sg/phcdgs/2017/10/25/does-nicotine-cause-sweating/
- 10. Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10368086
- 11. National Organization for Rare Disorders https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/frey-syndrome/
- 12. Diabetic Medicine https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8973884
- 13. American Diabetes Association https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/complications/neuropathy
- 14. Archives of Dermatological Research https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00403-016-1697-9
- 15. Management of Frey Syndrome Journal of Head and Neck 2007 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17230557
- 16. Frey Syndrome Treatment with Botulinum Toxin Journal of Otolaryngology Head Neck Surgery 2000