If your taste buds lean toward spicy, you might be doing your heart a favor, new research suggests. Spicy foods may increase salt sensitivity, thereby dampening the desire to consume heart-harming salty food, researchers in China say. High salt intake increases blood pressure and contributes to cardiovascular disease. Reducing salt intake is very important for health - and spicy foods significantly reduces individual salt preference, daily salt intake and blood pressure.
The research team conducted a mouse study alongside a human trial of more than 600 Chinese adults. Both correlated blood pressure levels with intake of spicy and salty dishes. Foods like chilli that up the heat essentially change the way the brain interprets salt, or sodium, intake. As spice consumption goes up, the result is a notably reduced craving for salt.
The American Heart Association advises consuming no more than a single teaspoon of salt - about 2,300 milligrams of sodium - a day. In the United States, three-quarters of all sodium consumption comes from processed and packaged foods and/or restaurant meals.
For the new study, the researchers assessed participants' preferences for salty and spicy flavors, and linked those tendencies to blood pressure levels. The biggest consumers of spicy food were found to consume about 2.5 fewer grams of salt daily, compared to those with the blandest palates. The spice lovers also had systolic (upper) and diastolic (bottom) blood pressure levels that were 8 mm Hg and 5 mm Hg lower, respectively, on average, the findings showed.
The findings were released online Oct. 31 in the journal Hypertension.