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Food & diet

Green light for spicy food in your diet

October 10, 2018

There is a way to ‘deceive’ the brain and make it want less salty food: to eat spices and generally more spicy food. This is what a study by the Third Military Medical University of Chongqing, China, published in Hypertension. According to the researchers who conducted the experiments, in fact, lovers of spicy food automatically consume less salt, thus ensuring a generally lower blood pressure than those who do not like spicy foods. The Result: A reduction in the risk of heart attack and stroke. We talked about this topic with Elisabetta Macorsini, biologist and nutritionist at Humanitas.


More flavor without adding salt

Lovers of spicy taste consume less salt and have the lowest blood pressure, which reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke. According to researchers, the key could be that the brain areas stimulated by salt and spices such as chili pepper are the same. It emerges from a study by the Third Military Medical University of Chongqing, China, published in Hypertension. For the study 606 Chinese adults were enrolled, determining their preferences for salty or spicy taste. The researchers then linked these preferences to blood pressure, finding that compared to those who did not like spicy foods, the research participants who consumed them had the lowest maximum pressure of eight millimeters of mercury and the lowest of five, in addition to consuming less salt.


Salty or spicy: There is no difference for the brain

The research team also used imaging techniques to examine two regions of the brain, the insula and the orbitfrontal cortex, known to be involved in salty taste. It was thus found that the areas stimulated by salt and spice overlapped and that indeed the spicy stimulated these brain areas further, making the study participants more sensitive to salt and thus able to consume less salt.


In short, if you add a little spice to the cooking, you can cook tasty food without using so much salt. However, the researchers pointed out that the results should also be repeated on Caucasians to understand whether the results can be considered valid in a generalized manner.


The opinion of Humanitas

“Spices are very useful to flavor our dishes in a tasty way, avoiding an excessive use of salt, but they are also a valid ally for the protection of our health – said Macorsini. Since ancient times spices have been recognized as aromatizing and antibacterial properties, today there is an increasingly widespread sensitivity towards their use in the prevention and treatment of various diseases. In our age of globalization, spices are used daily by people of different nationalities and this increases the knowledge of spices both as food and as a source of active ingredients that can have beneficial effects on our health.

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What are the beneficial effects of the most common spices?

The most common spice in the world is black pepper, its spicy aroma and its ability to modify flavors is attributable to piperine – added the dietitian. Black pepper is recognized as a digestive property as it increases the secretion of digestive enzymes and reduces the transit time.


Some studies have shown that piperine may have a protective effect against gastric ulcers, obviously at the commonly used doses. Piperine increases the absorption capacity of the mucous membrane in the intestine, stimulates thermogenesis (body energy expenditure) and has anti-inflammatory properties.


Chili peppers, on the other hand, owe their spicy taste to capsaicin, which, through a specific receptor, is able to act on the sense of appetite and satiety. Recent studies have shown that a milligram of chili pepper rich in piperine is able to have positive effects on the control of appetite and satiety. Capsaicin also has a beneficial effect on the cardiovascular system because it stimulates the release of nitric oxide, which has a positive effect on blood pressure. Capsaicin also has a desensitizing and analgesic effect, which is used in the preparation of applications for topical use to be used in cases of chronic pain, such as diabetic neuropathy and neuromuscular pain. Capsaicin can increase bladder function and control urinary incontinence, reduce post-operative nausea and vomiting and is a valuable gastroprotector in therapies with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.


The biologically active component of curcuma is curcumin, a traditional preservative and responsible for the golden-yellow color of curry.


In subjects with Crohn’s disease (chronic inflammatory bowel disease), the intake of curcumin has allowed to reduce the doses of drug therapies.


In recent years, various studies have highlighted the antioxidant, antiviral, antiproliferative and anti-inflammatory activities of this spice. Turmeric could also have anticancerous properties considering the close link of cancer with the altered inflammatory state and oxidative stress and the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of the spice. Turmeric appears to reduce angiogenesis (growth of new vessels) and thus decrease the spread of cancer cells.


Cinnamon has metabolic properties: diabetic patients who took 2 g/day of cinnamon for 4-18 weeks have seen a reduction in blood sugar, total cholesterol and triglycerides.


Since ancient times, ginger has been used to control nausea and vomiting of various kinds (pregnant nausea, post-operative nausea, sea sickness).


Saffron is obtained from the stigmas of Crocus sativus and is a very expensive spice: (70 thousand flowers give 2.5 kg of stigmas from which we get 1 kg of saffron). It is very rich in antioxidants that are not altered during cooking.


Cloves are rich in eugenol with antimicrobial properties used in oral disinfection and dental dressings.

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