People who like spicy foods may consume less salt and have lower blood pressure, potentially reducing their risk of heart attacks and strokes, a new study from China suggests.
The researchers found that when people didn’t care for spicy food, they consumed an average of 13.4 grams a day of salt. But when people craved spicy dishes, their average salt intake was just 10.3 grams a day.
Systolic blood pressure – the “top” number showing how much pressure blood exerts against artery walls when the heart beats – was 8 mmHg (millimeters of mercury) lower for spicy food fans compared to people with the lowest tolerance for spice. Diastolic blood pressure – the “bottom” number indicating how much pressure the blood exerts on artery walls when the heart is at rest between beats – was 5 mmHg lower for spice lovers.
Spicy flavours may enhance salty taste of foods, consume less sodium
The study findings suggest that enjoying spicy flavour is an important way to reduce salt intake and blood pressure, no matter the type of food and the amount of food.
A high-salt diet has long been linked to higher odds of developing high blood pressure and heart disease as well as an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and heart failure. But determining the ideal amount of dietary salt is controversial because some research has also found an elevated risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and heart attacks in otherwise healthy people who consume too little salt.
Capsaicin may heighten salty taste
Some previous research suggests that trace amounts of capsaicin, the chemical that gives chili peppers their heat and pungent smell, may heighten salty flavors in foods, essentially requiring lower amount of salt to achieve the flavor people may want.
For the current study, researchers wanted to see if this heightened awareness of salty flavors in food might translate into lower salt intake.
About the study
Researchers also used imaging techniques to look at two regions of the participants’ brains — the insula and orbitofrontal cortex — known to be involved in salty taste.
They found that the areas stimulated by salt and spice overlapped, and that spice further increased brain activity in areas activated by salt. The researchers believe that this increased activity makes people more sensitive to salt so that they can enjoy food with less of it.
It is not possible to tell from this study which types of spices are most beneficial or how much spice is required to see a beneficial effect on lowering salt intake or blood pressure.
There are no key spices identified in this study; a good way to think about it is adding a little spice may be beneficial.
Source: Hypertension, online October 31, 2017.
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