A new study proposes the fact that eating spicy foods makes us more aware of the taste of salt helping us to cut down on salt intake and henceforth, helps to lower systolic blood pressure levels (the top number in blood pressure readings).
People who ate spicy foods consumed 3 grams of salt lesser than people who didn’t. Also, systolic pressure readings were 8 mmHg (millimeter of mercury) lower and diastolic readings were 5 mmHg lower for people who loved to eat spicy food compared to those who had least tolerance to spice.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that people worldwide are consuming abundant salt increasing their risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. This is the prime reason for researchers to consider alternative ways to reduce salt intake.
A study from 2015 states that including spicy food in your meal almost daily reduces the risk of death by as much as 14 percent, including reduction of deaths from diabetes, cancer and ischaemic heart disease, compared to those who consume it only once a week or so. This study tested the people’s salt and spicy preferences along with a questionnaire asking them about their food habits. The researchers concluded that those who enjoyed spicy food had lower blood pressure and were much more sensitive to salt taste. Whereas, people who relished high-salt foods had increased blood pressure and were not so fond about spicy foods.
When further studied, it was found that spicy flavor modifies our perception of salt intensity. Our minds assume that adding spices to low-salt foods increases salt level and overall food taste. This may be because of the presence of capsaicin (the chemical that gives chili it’s pungent smell) that elevates salty flavors in foods.
For the current study, researchers used imaging techniques to study the two regions of the participants’ brains (insula and orbitofrontal cortex) which are involved in salty taste. The areas stimulated by salt and spice overlapped, and spice increased brain activity in areas activated by salt. But, the study did not take part in a controlled environment, did not measure the salt intake but relied on surveys and was constrained to a definite set of people.
With all these restrictions in the study, can we still conclude that people should eat more spicy foods to lower their blood pressure? Definitely not! The study conveys that people eating spicy food have decreased pressure levels and there is no hard-core proof that reveals that spicy food lowers blood pressure. One thing is sure-decreased salt intake decreases pressure levels. If you have increased pressure levels, get in touch with a registered dietitian nutritionist at www.firsteatright.com to help you plan a healthy diet chart accordingly. The RDN is sure to guide you with specific set of exercises too that help in decreasing blood pressure levels.
Until there is explicit proof, increasing chili usage while cooking is not going to have any negative effect and might be advantageous as well. Add spice to rice to add spice to life!
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.