If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may have advised you to, among other things, cut down on your salt intake. The American Heart Association caps the healthy amount of sodium at 2,300 milligrams a day, but recommends staying at or below 1,500 milligrams.
Those amounts may sound generous until you consider that there are 575 milligrams in just a quarter teaspoon of table salt. Add that to the already salt-laden processed, prepackaged or prepared foods we frequently eat and it’s no wonder the average American tallies 3,400 milligrams a day.
“Patients frequently tell me that they eat very little salt, but what they’re saying is that they’re not adding salt from the salt shaker,” says Christopher Suhar, MD, director of the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine. “A lot of patients have misconceptions about how much salt is already in their food.”
But researchers have identified a simple salt substitute: chili peppers. A study of 606 Chinese adults found that those who prefer spicy food consumed less sodium and had lower blood pressures than their mild-palate counterparts. The data, published in the journal Hypertension, suggests that the active component in chili peppers, capsaicin, may reduce salt cravings.
However, turning up the heat won’t do it all. Dr. Suhar says it’s important to pay attention to food labels and other nutrition information because deceptive serving sizes can make you think you’re consuming less salt (and calories and fat) than you actually are.
“A can of soup can be two or more servings. A serving of chips is six chips,” he says. “In order to reduce salt intake, consumers need to be educated about how to read food labels and find hidden sources of salt in their diets. Salt substitutes also can help, and this study suggests that spicy foods may be another alternative.”
Chef Deborah Scott’s eclectic cuisine has been featured at Cohn Group Restaurants since 1995. Chef Deb uses sambal, a paste made from ground red chili, to spice up grilled fish.
1/3 cup sambal
2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
1 tablespoon mint, finely chopped
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon salt (optional)
1/2 tablespoon pepper
Calories: 15 Fat: 0 g Saturated fat: 0 g Trans fat: 0 g Cholesterol: 0 mg Sodium: 438 mg Carbohydrate: 4 g Fiber: 0 g Sugar: 9 g
This content appeared in San Diego Health, a publication in partnership between Scripps and San Diego Magazine that celebrates the healthy spirit of San Diego.