Eating spicy food may curb unhealthy cravings for salt, leading to lower blood pressure, suggests a new study.
Researchers found that people who enjoyed this type of cuisine appeared to eat less salt because it ‘tricks’ their brains into wanting less.
As a result, they were found to have lower blood pressure, potentially reducing their risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
Approximately 75 million adults in the US have raised readings – also known as hypertension – which affects 16 million people in the UK.
Senior study author Professor Zhiming Zhu, of the Third Military Medical University in Chongqing, China, said: ‘Previously, a pilot study found that trace amounts of capsaicin, the chemical that gives chili peppers their pungent smell, enhanced the perception of food being salty.’
‘We wanted to test whether this effect would also reduce salt consumption.’
Chinese researchers discovered people who enjoy spicy foods have lower blood pressure, potentially reducing their risk of a heart attack or stroke (stock photo)
The study, published in the journal Hypertension, researchers looked at 606 Chinese adults and determined their preferences for salty and spicy flavours.
Researchers then linked those preferences to blood pressure.
They found that, compared to those who least enjoyed spicy foods, participants with a high spicy preference had 8mm Hg lower systolic (upper) and 5mm Hg lower diastolic (bottom) blood pressure numbers.
MAGNESIUM CREAM COULD COMBAT HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE
Magnesium cream could be used as an alternative or in addition to medication to combat high blood pressure, a recent study has found.
It could be promising news for the millions of people who suffer from hypertension, which raises the risk of heart disease, stroke and vascular dementia.
Scientists know that people with higher than average blood pressure can be deficient in magnesium, which is thought to help the body to regulate blood flow.
Now a new study has found that topical application absorbed through skin significantly boosts levels of the mineral in the blood.
Only 86 per cent of the population currently meet recommended magnesium levels in their diet, according to the researchers from the University of Hertfordshire.
They say that supplementation is proven to improve immune function and our heart health as well as lower risks for metabolic syndrome, the medical term for a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.
And the spicy food fans consumed less salt than participants who had a low spicy preference.
The team 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 scientists said that this increased activity likely makes people more sensitive to salt so that they can enjoy food with less of it.
As all the participants were from China, the researchers said further study is needed to determine if the findings may be generalised to other countries.
Professor Zhu added: ‘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.’
A study in May revealed an astonishing 70 per cent of salt intake comes from ready meals and eating out – not the salt shaker.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300mgs a day – equivalent to one teaspoon salt – and an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day for most adults.
In the UK, NHS guidelines advise no more than 6g of salt (2,400mg of sodium, 1¼ teaspoons salt) a day.