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Spice lowers salt intake
November 26, 2017, 2:21 pm

Spicy foods increase sensitivity to salt thereby decreasing the desire to consume more salty products, says a new study by a team of researchers at the Third Military Medical University in Chongqing, China.

High salt intake has been shown to increase blood pressure and contribute to cardiovascular disease. Spicy foods were found to significantly reduce individual salt preference, daily salt intake and blood pressure, said the researchers.

The World Health Organization (WHO), which recommends limiting dietary salt intake to 5 grams per day, has identified salt reduction as a key dietary target in its push to cut the risk of those dying from non-communicable illnesses by 2025.

Many people around the world routinely take in far more than the WHO's recommended salt limit. In the US, and in many other developed countries, nearly three-quarters of all sodium consumption comes from eating processed and packaged foods and/or restaurant meals.

For their study, researchers assessed preferences for salty and spicy flavors among 600 adult participants, and linked those tendencies to blood pressure levels.

The study showed that spicy food choosers consumed 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.

Participants were then divided into two dietary groups and underwent brain scans. One group ate a diet spiked with capsaicin, the major spicy compound in chili pepper. The other group consumed their usual diet.

Imaging scans showed the capsaicin group experienced a significant increase in activity in a brain region central to the processing of taste. That region was also activated by salt. That overlap, in turn, appeared to diminish the desire to consume salty food, the researchers said.

The team said their study provided insights for the enjoyment of spicy flavor as a promising behavioral intervention for reducing high salt intake and blood pressure.

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