People who eat spicy food tend to eat less salt and have lower blood pressure, which reduces their risk of heart attack and stroke, according to new research in the American Heart Association's journal Hypertension.
"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," said senior study author Zhiming Zhu, professor and director of the Department of Hypertension and Endocrinology at the Third Military Medical University in Chongqing, China. "We wanted to test whether this effect would also reduce salt consumption."
The study enrolled 606 Chinese adults and determined their preferences for salty and spicy flavors. The research team then linked those preferences to blood pressure.
- had 8 mm Hg lower systolic (upper) and 5mm Hg lower diastolic (bottom) blood pressure numbers; and
- consumed less salt than participants who had a low spicy preference
All participants of this study are from China, so further research is needed to determine if these findings may be generalized to other countries.
"If you add some spices to your cooking, you can cook food that tastes good without using as much salt," Zhu said. "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."
Salt and sodium are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. More than 75 percent of the sodium Americans eat comes from processed, prepackaged and restaurant foods - not from the salt shaker. The American Heart Association recommends no more than one teaspoon of salt (2,300 mg sodium) or less per day.