Spicy Foods: A Hot Topic
If you can take the heat, those spicy foods you love may be hot in more ways that meets the mouth with new-found potential for reducing the need for less healthful ingredient additions, particularly salt.
By Tyler Kim, Dietetic Intern at Retail Dietitians Business Alliance, Wellness Workdays
If you can take the heat, those spicy foods you love may be hot in more ways that meets the mouth with new-found potential for reducing the need for less healthful ingredient additions, particularly salt. Many studies currently are looking at the potential benefits of these foods, specifically capsaicin, the bioactive compound in chili which confers its spicy properties. Though research is still in its preliminary stages, some of the potential benefits include antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, benefits to the gut microbiota, and appetite stabilization. To add to that list, a recent study has found that Chinese subjects who preferred spicier foods had both a lower salt intake and lower blood pressure than those who disliked spicy foods. This was due to increased metabolic activity in the insula and orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) portions of the brain, dampening salt intensity in the presence of that food. The researchers also found an enhanced salt sensitivity in these participants, enabling them to enjoy the same foods with less salt.
It is a known fact that a high salt intake directly increases risk for hypertension, or high blood pressure. Hypertension affects nearly half of adults globally, and is a proven strong risk factor for multiple cardiovascular diseases. The World Health Organization has even proposed reduction in salt intake as the key dietary target for 2025 to reduce mortality from many non-communicable diseases.
Currently, the average American is consuming an average of over 3,400mg of sodium per day, far higher than the recommended 2,300mg (equivalent of 1 teaspoon). About 70% of the sodium we consume comes from processed and restaurant foods (typically higher in sodium), so choosing to cook at home is a great option for reducing intake. A couple good tips for preparing and eating food at home include avoid salting at the table, and try utilizing other herbs and spices to add flavor without salting.
Now, kicking it up a notch might just be added to this list. Decreasing our need for excess salt by upping our sensitivity to it definitely makes sense, but more research is needed to show that the results are generalizable to the greater population. If it is, this strategy could be one of the tastiest strategies to implement in the quest to reduce soaring sodium intakes, fight hypertension, and improve overall health.
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Li et al. Enjoyment of Spicy Flavor Enhances Central Salty-Taste Perception and Reduces Salt Intake and Blood Pressure. Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association 2017;70:00-00.
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