Ask Dr. Nandi: Want to avoid salt? Turn up the spice

Posted at 6:13 PM, Nov 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-01 18:13:45-04

If you're trying to avoid salt, you can add one thing to your diet that may reduce your cravings.

It’s something that I enjoy eating, and that’s spicy foods. Researchers in China found spicy foods can dampen your desire for salty foods.   

And the higher the intake, the less consumption of salt. In fact, after assessing over 600 Chinese people, those who loved spicy food ate roughly 2.5 grams less than those with the plainest taste buds. 

That’s about half a teaspoon. 

And on top of that, those with the spicy palate also had lower blood pressure.

We should be eating no more than one teaspoon of salt a day. Sadly, nearly 90 percent of Americans are eating almost 50 percent more than this recommendation and the majority of it we get from processed, packaged foods and dining out. 

Too much sodium increases your risk for high blood pressure which can lead to stroke and heart disease.

This study looked at capsaicin, the heat-producing compound in chili peppers. But if you don’t like chili peppers, there are other steps you can take to reduce sodium consumption so here are my prescriptions:

Partha’s RX:

1. Skip the salt and season foods with other flavorful spices and herbs like fresh basil, cinnamon, turmeric, garlic and ginger.  Also try lemon juice, vinegars, and wine. 

2. Fill your plate with fresh fruits and veggies.  They’re naturally lower in sodium and high in nutrients.  

3. Limit processed and prepared foods.  Buy low sodium options when possible.  

4. When cooking, try adding in a small amount of chili pepper and gradually increase the amount over time. You may increase your spicy tolerance and naturally lower your desire for salt.

The participants in this study also had brain imaging scans of the area that responds to the taste of salt. 

This region showed increased activity in those who loved spicy foods. So it’s possible spicy foods could be tricking the brain into thinking the food being eaten is saltier than it really is.