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Cooking with more spice may help older consumers use less salt, study finds

Experts say reducing salt intake may help promote better overall health outcomes

Adding salt to fries concept
Photo (c) Peter Dazeley - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Washington State University explored a new way for older consumers to cut back on their salt intake.

According to their findings, cooking with more spice is one way to help reduce how much salt is added to food; over time, this pattern can have significant heart health benefits for older consumers. 

“We were working specifically with a population of older adults to see if we could reduce the amount of salt in a product and then tailor it to their tastes,” said researcher Carolyn Ross. “This is important because the ability to taste and smell is known to weaken with age, and weaker perception of salty flavors may induce people to season their food with excessive salt, which may increase their risk of cardiovascular disease.” 

Adding spice benefits consumers’ health

The researchers had 39 participants over the age of 60 involved in a taste-test trial over the course of several days. The participants tasted three different variations of a pasta sauce: one had no added seasonings, one was seasoned with herbs, and the third had a combination of chipotle seasoning and herbs. The group then answered questions about their overall health and the medications they were taking to better understand what factors may impact their sense of taste. 

The researchers learned that the combination of herbs and chipotle seasoning was the most effective at limiting the participants’ salt intake. When trying this combination of spices, the participants were unable to tell how much salt was used, and they were less likely to add more salt. However, the sauce that contained just the herbs wasn’t as effective in this way. 

The study also found that taking several different medications and having poor oral health may affect consumers’ sense of taste. These factors can affect saliva production, making it harder to distinguish between different flavors. The researchers say older consumers could be adding more salt to their meals because their ability to taste has diminished as they’ve aged. 

Ultimately, these findings were helpful in identifying tangible ways for older consumers to limit their salt intake. Now, the team plans to do more work to better understand what happens to consumers’ tastes throughout the aging process. 

“To date, a clear relationship between taste loss, and thus higher taste thresholds, and eating behavior remains to be established,” said Ross. “So, we are investigating a bunch of different possible factors.” 

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