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Salty Health

Reducing salt intake may help manage blood pressure and prevent water retention. If you are taking medication for these conditions, it is still important to reduce salt intake to help the medication work more effectively.

Pregnant women should not restrict the amount of sodium consumed to minimize water retention and swelling. Pregnancy actually increases the need for sodium. Menopausal women should cut down on salt as it increases the risk of water retention. 

Around this time of year, most of us are working hard to avoid eating too many sweets and high fat treats. While limiting your intake of fat and sugar is a great way to stay healthy during the holidays, cutting your consumption of salt may be just as important. In the Indian way of life there are periodic ‘fasts’ punctuating the food calendar, which take care of this aspect of our consumption. The ‘Navratri’ fasts in October and April have to be salt and fat free, if we follow the recommended diet plans for the fasts. These are important months in the seasonal shifts that take place around these times. We enter the winter and summer seasons, in most of India, and the seasonal food intake changes drastically, therefore the fasts actually give our bodies time to adjust and to detoxify during this time. 

We all love the taste of salt, and most of us eat far too much of it and various spices. On average, people consume 10 grams of salt daily, the amount in two teaspoons, which is far more than the 5 grams per day recommended by the World Health Organization. 
Table salt is a chemical compound composed of sodium and chloride. While both minerals are essential for life, too much of a good thing is definitely bad for you. Excessive amounts of dietary sodium can elevate blood pressure. For individuals with hypertension, a sodium-rich diet can worsen the condition, making blood pressure harder to control, even with prescription medications.Different age groups and life-styles also require different consumption patterns.

For years, doctors have known that a high-salt diet can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease indirectly by elevating blood pressure. In a recent analysis of 13 studies involving more than 170,000 people, a team of researchers from the United Kingdom and Italy found a direct correlation between salt consumption and the risk of heart disease and stroke. The review, published online in the British Medical Journal, found that people who regularly consumed an extra 5 grams of salt daily had a 23 percent greater risk of stroke and a 17 percent greater chance of developing heart disease. Too much salt is bad for your cardiovascular system, and it may be just as bad for your bones. A study conducted by researchers at the University of California showed that excessive salt consumption significantly increases the amount of calcium excreted in the urine, boosting the risk for osteoporosis. This is a point to note for women, especially those entering the menopausal stage in their lives. 

Excessive salt intake can cause your body to retain water in order to dilute the sodium levels in the blood and tissues to a normal level. As a result, regular consumption of salty foods can cause you to look and feel puffy and bloated. 
Cutting back on salt may seem relatively simple, but it’s often easier said than done, especially for folks who don’t prepare their own meals. Approximately 77 percent of the urban consumer’s sodium intake comes from processed foods and meals prepared at restaurants and fast-food outlets. Most families in metropolises depend heavily on packaged and processed foods. Anything from daily breakfast bread and cereals to cookies, everything contains salt and it all adds up.
Roughly, 12% of the sodium we consume occurs naturally in foods. Only about 11 percent comes from the saltshakers on our tables. 

One of the best ways to limit your salt consumption is to eat a diet rich in whole grains and raw fruits and vegetables. This should not be difficult for us as most of our diet does consist of these items. Whole grains are our daily staple, as are fresh seasonal vegetables, but now our traditionally prevalent consumption habits have been totally subsumed by our dependence on ready to use, convenient foods, so aggressively advertised on Indian television and in the print media. Most plant foods are naturally low in sodium and rich in potassium, a mineral that can offset some of the negative heath effects of a high-salt diet. These plant foods should be consciously included in our daily diet in the form of saltless salad and lightly cooked or steamed vegetables. 

Preparing your meals from scratch is not always easy or convenient, but it is an excellent way to help you control the amount of sodium in your diet. Instead of using salt, try using spices and herbs, lemon juice or sodium-free seasoning blends to enhance the flavour of your favourite foods. This requires no extra attitudinal shift or special training for an Indian cook or housewife. Seasonal fresh herbs like cilantro, mint, Tulsi, curry-patta are all a part and parcel of our daily cooking patterns and these should be retained. Most of these herbs come free with purchased vegetables and are as easily grown in and around the house. 

When you must eat packaged foods to avoid starvation, reading the labels can help you identify sodium-rich items, such as canned soups, snack foods, luncheon meats and cheeses. Whenever possible, avoid foods that are obviously high in sodium, such as ready to heat and eat dishes and salty sauces and gravies, and opt for low-sodium meals. 

If you are trying to cut back on your salt consumption, you may want to steer clear of most boxed convenience foods, such as stuffing mixes, pasta meals and flavored rice. Since most canned vegetables are prepared with salt, it is a good idea to rinse them thoroughly before serving them. 

Soy sauce, salad dressings, ketchup, and other tomato-based condiments are surprisingly high in salt, so it is wise to use these items sparingly. Fortunately, most supermarkets now offer low-sodium varieties of your favorite condiments. 

Removing your saltshaker from your table will make it easier to avoid the temptation of adding extra salt to your food. If you can’t bear the thought of parting with your salt shaker, try filling it with tasty, sodium-free seasonings and spices such as oregano, paprika ‘ kasuri- methi’ mint, or parsley. It is even possible, and actually is a tradition to dry your own herbs and store for use. 

It may take a week or two for your taste buds to adjust, but if you stick with it, you’ll find that it’s entirely possible to survive with a little less salt in your life.

Tips:

  • Cook cereals, rice and pasta without adding salt.
  • You can omit salt or decrease salt in most recipes for baked goods.
  • Use season vegetables with herbs, spices or lemon juice instead of salt.
  • Choose fresh more often because canned contain added sodium. If using canned food, rinse thoroughly.
  • Dairy products have moderate amounts of sodium. Milk and yogurt are lower in sodium than most cheeses - natural cheeses are usually lower in sodium than processed.
  • Choose low-sodium reduced-sodium or salt-free foods and processed meats.
  • Prepare additional fresh meats to use in sandwiches.
  • Use herbs and spices, instead of salt to season your food.
  • Try air-popped popcorn with salt-free seasoning.
  • The following ingredients contain large amounts of sodium: Indian pickles and yogurt preparations like ‘Raitas’, which of course have the added benefit of fresh vegetables and other spices. So avoid salt altogether or use in minimal quantities.

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