Make It Spicy! An Unusual Approach to Lowering Your Blood Pressure

Nutrition

By Joy Stephenson-Laws, J.D. Founder

It’s very easy to lose track of how much sodium you consume on a daily basis, especially if you eat processed foods. ”More than 75 percent of the sodium we eat comes from processed foods like canned soups, lunch meats and frozen dinners,” according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

Sodium is an essential mineral that is naturally present in some foods (for example, celery) or added during processing. It should not necessarily be confused with salt, which is a combination of sodium and chloride. The AHA says, “[b]y weight, table salt is approximately 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride. About 90 percent of the sodium we eat is in the form of sodium chloride.”

And we all do need sodium. This mineral helps to engineer the actions of every human cell. Every human action including eating, thinking, running and working depends on adequate sodium. An enzyme in the body is involved with pumping sodium and potassium ions across the membranes of every single cell.

So how much sodium do you need?

In general, most people need about 1,500 mg of sodium daily. This is not a lot. 1,500 mg is the equivalent of about two-thirds of a teaspoon of salt.

So as you can imagine, many of you may be consuming way too much sodium. And this may be very detrimental to your health. Too much sodium may increase the risk for developing hypertension (high blood pressure) and cardiovascular disease.

“Reducing salt intake has been identified as one of the most cost-effective measures countries can take to improve population health outcomes,” says the World Health Organization (WHO). “Key salt reduction measures will generate an extra year of healthy life for a cost that falls below the average annual income or gross domestic product per person.”

WHO also reports that an estimated 2.5 million deaths could be prevented each year if global salt consumption were reduced to the recommended level.

And if you want to be proactive about reducing your taste for salt, it may be as simple as eating more spicy foods. It may literally change your mind, or I guess I should say brain, about salt.

According to a recent study about hypertension, the “enjoyment of spicy foods may significantly reduce individual salt preference, daily salt intake, and blood pressure by modifying the neural processing of salty taste in the brain.”

Study participants’ preference for salty and spicy flavors, salt intake and blood pressure were evaluated. Those with a higher salt preference had a higher systolic blood pressure and a higher diastolic blood pressure than the participants with a lower salt preference. And not surprisingly, participants with a higher salt preference had a higher salt intake.

But what is interesting is that a higher salt preference was also associated with a lower spice preference and ability to tolerate spice. And the participants who liked spicy flavors were more sensitive to salt.

Capsaicin, which is the main active, component of chili peppers, appeared to influence salt sensitivity in humans. When capsaicin was administered to participants, it “showed that capsaicin administration at 0.5 μmol/L did not produce a burning sensation on the tongue but did increase the perception of saltiness.”

“Most importantly, the brain regions activated by capsaicin overlapped with the brain regions stimulated by salty taste.”

Researchers from this study also tested their hypothesis in rodents, using optogenetics. They found that the administration of capsaicin had similar effects.

But if you are going to add more spicy foods to your diet, please proceed with caution. Stay away from spicy, processed foods which usually have large amounts of added sodium. And make sure to read nutrition labels like a detective. Many hot sauces you can buy in the store have added sodium. Look for low sodium options.

Another great way to add spice is by adding cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, chili oil or jalapenos to dishes. I find that if I put a little bit of cayenne pepper in my dishes, I don’t even miss the salt.

But what if you don’t like spicy food?

If you don’t like spicy food or if you have a bad reaction to it, use lemon and citrus instead of salt. You may not get the impact on your brain that helps to lower your salt intake that you may get from spicy food, but you may find that if you squeeze lemon on your baked potato, for example, that you don’t even need salt.

Another great way to add flavor to food without salt is through herbs, like thyme and parsley.

Most importantly, if you already have hypertension or any medical issues, be sure to talk to your doctor about your sodium intake. For example, you may need less than the recommended 1,500 mg per day.

Enjoy your healthy life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.

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