Your heart is one of the most vital organs in your body, but keeping this muscle healthy isn’t always easy. Due to risk factors like high blood pressure, physical inactivity, and excessive alcohol use, someone in the U.S. has a heart attack every 40 seconds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nearly 30 percent of these people end up dying, with about 50 percent of the deaths occurring before they can even get to the hospital, per Medscape. But even if you do have a heart attack, there is one type of food that could slash your risk of dying from it by nearly half. Read on to find out which heart healthy food you may want to add to your diet.
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Eating chili peppers four times a week lowers your risk of dying from a heart attack.
A 2019 Italian study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology analyzed the impact of chili peppers on the risk of death from a heart attack. The researchers used data from more than 22,800 participants enrolled in the Moli-sani study, a population cohort that recruited men and women at random between March 2005 and April 2015. For the 2019 study, the participants’ health status was followed for about eight years and compared with their eating habits. The Italian researchers found that those who were regularly consuming chili peppers at least four times a week or more had a 40 percent lower risk of dying from a heart attack than those who rarely ate this food.
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These peppers also significantly reduced the risk of dying from stroke.
The researchers didn’t stop at looking for health benefits in relation to heart attacks. According to the study, people who ate chili peppers four times a week or more were also 60 percent less likely to die from cerebrovascular disease such as stroke compared to those who did not regularly eat these peppers.
The researchers did not examine exactly why chili peppers could potentially have a positive impact on heart health, but certain experts believe that capsaicin, the active ingredient that gives chilis their fiery heat, might be the reason. “Some data show how capsaicinoids [a class of compounds that includes capsaicin] may have an impact on platelet function [to help your body form clots to stop bleeding], the cells lining the blood vessels, and reduction in insulin resistance,” Jeffrey Teuteberg, MD, a cardiologist at Stanford Health Care, who was not involved in the study, told Everyday Health.
The positive impact of eating chili peppers was independent of following a healthy diet.
You may not have to change your entire diet either. Eating chili peppers at least four times a week can have a risk-reducing impact for you, even if you don’t follow a typical “healthy diet,” according to the study. “An interesting fact is that protection from mortality risk was independent of the type of diet people followed,” lead study author Marialaura Bonaccio, PhD, an epidemiologist at the Mediterranean Neurological Institute, said in a statement.
She added, “In other words, someone can follow the healthy Mediterranean diet, someone else can eat less healthily, but for all of them chili pepper has a protective effect.”
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But other experts caution against just adding chili peppers to an unhealthy diet.
Meanwhile, other experts who were not involved in the study have cast some doubt on this. Duane Mellor, RD, a registered dietitian and senior teaching fellow at Aston Medical School in the UK, told CNN that the study did “not show a causal link” between chili consumption and health benefits, and that the positive effect could likely be attributed to how peppers are used in an overall diet.
“It is plausible people who use chillies, as the data suggests also used more herbs and spices, and as such likely to be eating more fresh foods including vegetables,” he said. “So, although chillies can be a tasty addition to our recipes and meals, any direct effect is likely to be small and it is more likely that it makes eating other healthy foods more pleasurable.”
Health experts specifically advise against just adding these peppers into your diet rather than making it healthier overall. “While chili peppers appear to be heart healthy, it’s important to understand that you can’t just squirt a little hot sauce on your cheeseburger and call it good,” Sarah Samaan, MD, a cardiologist with Baylor Scott&White Legacy Heart Center, who was not involved in the research, told Everyday Health. “Making chili peppers one part of a heart healthy diet will take you much further down the road to good health.”
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