Choose spicy foods and protect your heart: New study finds people who do eat less salt

Those of us who love to eat spicy food have another reason to indulge. Chinese researchers have found that people who enjoyed spicy foods are less likely to eat salt, leading to them having lower blood pressure. According to the, this is because spicy food tricks the brain into wanting less salt.

To come to this conclusion, researchers from the Third Military Medical University in Chongqing, China recruited 606 local adults. The participants were divided into three groups based on their tolerance for a capsaicin-containing solution: low, medium, and high preference.

Those with a high preference for spicy foods were found to have a reduced average of eight millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) for their systolic (upper) blood pressure, and a reduced average of five mm Hg for their diastolic (bottom) blood pressure compared to the participants with a low preference for spicy food. Moreover, these people also turned out to consume less salt, with an average of about 2.5 g less per day.

Following this, the researchers performed brain scans on the participants as they ate salty and spicy foods in order to determine how people reacted to these flavors. The researchers took note of any changes to the insular and orbitofrontal cortices, two regions of the brain known to be receptive to the taste of salt. They discovered that the brain regions responsive to saltiness and spiciness actually overlapped. Additionally, spiciness boosted activity in the areas of the brain affected by salt.

This increased activity meant that those who enjoyed spicy foods were more sensitive to salt, and therefore consumed foods made with considerably less salt. This in turn could lead to the decreased risk of heart problems, as great amounts of salt have long been linked to increased blood pressure. (Related: Excess salt consumption found to be the cause of millions of heart disease deaths worldwide.)

Based on their results, professor Zhiming Zhu, senior author of the study, has recommended making spicy food a part of one’s dietary regimen. “If you add some spices to your cooking, you can cook food that tastes good without using as much salt. Yes, habit and preference matter when it comes to spicy food, but even a small, gradual increase in spices in your food may have a health benefit,” said Zhu.

What heat can do for your heart

While the impact of spicy foods on salt intake is a recent development, their other heart-healthy benefits have been known for much longer. A 2014 paper by researchers from the Chinese University of Hong Kong is one such study that delved into these other benefits.

As part of their study, the researchers placed hamsters on high-cholesterol diets. They then added foods that had been enriched with capsaicinoids and capsinoids, two structurally similar components found in chili peppers. The capsinoid-enriched foods showed no noticeable effects on the hearts of the hamsters. By contrast, the hamsters that had been fed capsaicinoid-containing foods were found to have lower cholesterol levels, more relaxed arteries, and less atherosclerotic plaque. The researchers concluded that capsaicinoids had “beneficial vascular activity”, meaning that these compounds are good for your heart.

And if the term “capsaicinoids” sounds vaguely familiar, that may be because you’ve come across capsaicin, the compound that gives chili peppers their signature hotness. Capsaicin is also the most common and popular capsaicinoid.

So in addition to affecting salt intake, spicy foods have the potential to directly impact your heart as well by lowering blood cholesterol levels and preventing the formation of arterial plaque. If chili peppers, garlic, and curry are part and parcel of your everyday meals, then continue feasting on them. If not, then do reconsider. A little heat is nothing compared to the amazing benefits for your heart.

Visit for other ways on how to keep your heart in its best possible shape.

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