Heart and circulatory diseases cause more than a quarter (27 percent) of all deaths in the UK. That’s nearly 170,000 deaths each year – an average of 460 people each day or one death every three minutes, notes the British Heart Foundation. These stark statistics are matched only by cancer, which accounts for around 165,000 deaths in the UK every year – that’s around 450 every day, reports Cancer Research UK.
For those seeking longevity, these chronic diseases present a major obstacle.
Fortunately, the risk of developing both can be mitigated by committing to a healthy lifestyle.
There is no panacea but evidence does make a strong case for including particular items in your diet.
Paprika, a smoky spice made from the dried peppers of the plant Capsicum annuum, has shown promise in reducing your risk of heart disease and cancer.
Paprika’s heart-healthy properties
The key to reducing your risk of heart disease is to manage your cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in your blood that can clog up your arteries, thereby raising your risk of heart disease.
To stave off the risks, it is important to lower LDL cholesterol – known as the ‘bad’ cholesterol – while increasing HDL cholesterol, which counters the harmful effects of LDL cholesterol.
Evidence suggests consuming paprika can help to pull off this multi-tasking feat.
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Research indicates that capsanthin – a carotenoid (plant chemical) in this popular spice – may raise levels of HDL cholesterol.
One two-week study found that rats fed diets with paprika and capsanthin experienced significant increases in HDL levels, compared with rats on a control diet.
The carotenoids in paprika may also help decrease levels of total and LDL cholesterol.
In a 12-week study with 100 healthy adults, those who took a supplement containing nine mg of paprika carotenoids per day had significantly lower LDL and total cholesterol levels than those who got a placebo.
The cancer link
Numerous compounds in paprika may protect against cancer.
Several paprika carotenoids, including beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, have been shown to fight oxidative stress, which is thought to increase your risk of certain cancers.
Oxidative stress is an imbalance of unstable molecules called free radicals and antioxidants in the body, which can lead to cell and tissue damage.
Notably, in a study in nearly 2,000 women, those with the highest blood levels of beta carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and total carotenoids were 25–35 percent less likely to develop breast cancer.
What’s more, research suggests capsaicin in paprika may inhibit cancer cell growth and survival by influencing the expression of several genes.
General tips to reduce your risk
Research shows that a diet high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy protein (like seafood, tofu, or beans) and low in refined grains, added sugars, and red and processed meats is associated with a lower risk of both heart disease and breast cancer.
You can easily incorporate many of these items into your diet by following a Mediterranean-style diet.
A healthy diet plan should be accompanied by regular exercise to reduce your risk.
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