Eating Well

To Cut Back On Salt, Add More Spice

Let’s face it: we eat too much salt because we like salt too much. But what if we could alter our craving for salt? That’s what researchers at the Center for Hypertension and Metabolic Diseases at Third Military Medical University in Chongqing, China believe they have done. HealthDay reports that when researchers at the hospital conducted a mouse study alongside a human trial of more than 600 Chinese adults, correlating blood pressure levels with intake of spicy and salty dishes, they found that salt consumption decreased as spice consumption increased. The researchers found that people who ate the most spicy food ate about 2.5 fewer grams of salt daily, compared to those with the blandest palates. They also found that spice lovers had systolic (upper) and diastolic (bottom) blood pressure levels that were 8 mm Hg and 5 mm Hg lower, respectively, on average. And when the researchers did brain scans of the two dietary groups, they found that the group that ate more capsaicin, the major spicy compound in chili pepper, experienced a significant increase in activity in a brain region central to the processing of taste, the same region that is activated by salt. The bottom line: researchers are convinced that foods like chili essentially change the way the brain interprets salt intake.

 

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