The ‘mind trick’ that reduces salt cravings and stroke risk

It’s probably not news to you that consuming too much sodium puts you at greater risk of hypertension, heart attack, and stroke.

Research abounds that backs this up…

For example: a 2015 study looked at 4500 adults in Japan who had normal blood pressure at the beginning of the study. After following these people for three years and measuring their salt intake, about 23% (more than 1,000) developed high blood pressure.

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“Why do I love salt so much?”

If you’re one of those folks who loves salty food, but knows it’s bad for you, here’s some news. It’s probably not that you’re willfully courting a stroke each time you sit down with that bowl of chips. It may be that you’ve inherited a taste for sodium.

According to 2016 research presented to the American Heart Association, people who carry a gene known as TAS2R38 have a heightened ability to taste bitterness in foods.

Researchers conducting the study suggest there is also evidence that individuals who taste bitterness more intensely may also taste salt more intensely, and enjoy it more, leading to higher consumption.

The study analyzed the diet habits of subjects with the TAS2R38 gene, as compared to those without it. Their findings showed that people with the gene were nearly twice as likely to eat more than the recommended daily limit of sodium.

So, how do you outsmart genetics and your taste buds, and control your sodium intake?

Spicy foods to the rescue

Not all of us love spicy foods. But growing evidence may encourage you to try and add some spice to your diet as a way to curb those salt cravings, and boost your overall health.

A recently published study in the journal Hypertension demonstrates how spicy foods can shift our taste buds away from their craving for salt.

Brain scans of participants revealed that two areas of the brain – the insula and the orbitofrontal cortex – are stimulated by both salt and spiciness. Eating spicy food may ‘trick’ the brain into thinking it has tasted salty food, and so reduce the craving for salt over time.

One study in China followed 500,000 people aged 30 to 79 for seven years found that those who ate spicy foods once a week were actually ten percent less likely to die during the study!

Related: Some like it hot and live longer

But won’t all that spicy food burn your mouth? Destroy your taste buds?

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We eat right and exercise to help maintain our blood pressure levels within a normal range. Sometimes it still just isn’t enough. But there are clinically-tested nutritional ingredients that support arterial health to help keep blood pressure levels… MORE⟩⟩


Your tongue will be fine!

There are some misconceptions about eating spicy foods. Many people believe that very spicy foods destroy the taste buds. This belief probably stems from the action of the chemical capsaicin, the active ingredient in spicy peppers.

The pain receptors in our tongue react to this chemical the same way they’d react to heat, which is to numb the tongue temporarily and avoid pain. This leads many people to believe that the peppers have destroyed their taste buds. Not so!

Related: Three superspices that knock out pain

Before you dive right in and throw the chili peppers into your stew, here are some tips for building more spice into your diet, healthfully and enjoyably.

  1. Start small. Instead of jumping right in and cooking the spiciest recipe you can find, start be using ketchup with a few drops of Tabasco added, or some red pepper flakes to some of your favorite foods.
  2. Turn up the heat…. slowly! Once you’ve grown accustomed to a bit of spice, try adding a bit more. Maybe throw in some chopped chiles (start with milder ones like poblanos or cubanelles). An occasional meal that leaves your mouth burning is OK. It’s like stretching a muscle … it’s got to hurt a little! But don’t make your meals uncomfortable. Find the heat sweet spot that you can tolerate.
  3. Keep the right coolants at hand. Milk, sour cream, or other dairy products are the best coolants after eating something very spicy. That’s because capsaicin is fat-soluble, not water-soluble. This is why drinking water does nothing to relieve a mouth burning with spicy food.
  4. Don’t force it. The more capsaicin you ingest, the stronger the reaction. So, take it slow, and see how well you tolerate small amounts. If you repeatedly have bad or painful digestive reactions after adding spice to your diet, then stop. It’s not right for your body.

Related: This superspice puts the heat on cancer, melts fat and opens arteries

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Beware sneaky sources of salt

Now you may think just a few passes of the salt shaker across your plate is not that bad, but are you considering all the salt that has already snuck into your meals? More than 40 percent of the salt we consume comes from just these ten foods, so be on the lookout:

  1. Bread and rolls
  2. Cold cuts and cured meats
  3. Pizza
  4. Fresh and processed poultry
  5. Soups
  6. Sandwiches
  7. Cheese
  8. Pasta Dishes
  9. Meat mixed dishes, such as meatloaf with tomato sauce
  10. Snacks, such as chips, pretzels and popcorn

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Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.