Spicy food may help you control unhealthy craving for salt, says research

Less intake of salt can help in reducing the risk of heart attack and strokes.

Sara Navqi's favourite Iftar meal of puri-chole, deep fried bread and spicy chickpeas
Picture for representation Reuters

People, especially in India and its neighbours, like to have spicy food. They prefer rich flavours and deliberately stay away from bland soups and broths. Though it is often advised to avoid rich spicy food, a recent study showed that such cuisines control unhealthy craving for salts, which is an integral part of cooking and very easily can surpass the required amount.

What happens when you intake less salt? You also reduce the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.

"Previously, a pilot study found that trace amounts of capsaicin, the chemical that gives chilli peppers their pungent smell, enhanced the perception of food being salty," said lead author Zhiming Zhu, Professor at the Third Military Medical University in Chongging, China, according to IANS.

"We wanted to test whether this effect would also reduce salt consumption," Zhu added.

The study was done on more than 600 Chinese adults, who were given preferences for both salt and spicy foods. After that, the researchers have linked their preferences to blood pressure.

The researchers also used control method or technique to study two regions of the participants' brains- the insula and orbitofrontal cortex. These two sections are known to be involved in salty foods.

The study found that those areas which were triggered by salt and spice overlapped, and that brain activity, in areas activated by salt, was increased further by spice. This, in turn, made people more sensitive to salt and they preferred having less salty food.

"If you add some spices to your cooking, you can cook food that tastes good without using as much salt," Zhu said, according to the news agency.

However, the professor added that a person cannot change his liking for spicy for in a day or so. Hence even a gradual increase in the intake of spice will be beneficial.

(With inputs from IANS)

This article was first published on November 5, 2017