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Does curry really improve your heart health?

Posted in: Heart Health 29 Mar, 2012

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the developed world, killing 13 million people in the UK alone in 2009, according to the British Heart Foundation. There are a number of lifestyle factors which affect our probability of developing a heart condition, and a new one has just been added to the list.

Brits rejoice as the UK’s most popular dish has now been reported to decrease risks of high blood pressure and heart conditions. A new study claims that the ingredients used to make curry lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol.

As tempting as it may be to stop reading and head straight to your local Indian take-away, it’s probably more sensible to take this new information with a pinch of salt, so to speak. Despite the menu-grabbing headline by the Daily Mail today (‘Good News For Curry Fans – Spicy Dish Is Key To A Healthy Heart’), further research shows that it is in fact only chillies that contain compounds which could prove effective in combating heart conditions.

The chicken tikka masala is famously one of the most popular dishes in the UK. But a pre-prepared version from Sainsbury’s, for example, contains only trace amounts on chilli powder and no fresh chillies whatsoever. Even more worrying is the fact that one portion of this meal (without rice) contains almost 40% of our daily saturated fat allowance and 1.2g of salt – 20% of a healthy person’s daily allowance but 60% of the daily allowance for people with high blood pressure, who are encouraged to reduce their sodium intake down to 2g a day.

Of course, a homemade curry will usually contain fresh chillies, which according to the study from the Chinese University of Hong Kong contain substances known as capsaicinoids. These compounds were tested on mice and found to lower the levels of ‘bad cholesterol’ in our blood.

Unfortunately most curries contain very high levels of salt and saturated fat, particularly when using shop-bought sauces which are often thickened with cream or coconut milk. The outcome is as counterproductive as eating a donut and claiming the strawberry jam counts as one of your five a day.

However, there are small changes which can be made to your diet in order to improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Eating low-fat cheeses and skimmed milk dairy products, as well as lean meats and fresh fruit and vegetables will improve circulation and lower cholesterol levels. Most importantly, avoid foods high in saturated fats and salt, such as pre-prepared meals and fast food.

There is good news for those who are adopting a low-fat, low-sodium diet, though. The benefits of red wine have long since been discussed when it comes to reducing blood pressure and the latest consensus is that although the anti-oxidants do not do much for blood pressure, a glass (or two) a day does help avoid a build-up of plaque in the arteries. Hopefully that will make up for the curry disappointment...

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