World Hypertension Day: Why and how you should reduce your salt intake

May 17, 2018, 12:26 IST | Pavitra Sampath

About 35% of world population above the age of 25 suffers from hypertension

World Hypertension day
Representational Image

According to WHO, about 9.8 million people die every year due to hypertension-related complications. Hypertension is considered a silent killer producing heart disease, kidney failure and strokes. About 35 percent of world population above the age of 25 suffers from hypertension. One of the important strategies to lower hypertension in the population and its complications is reducing salt intake. Developed countries like Finland, United Kingdom, Australia and Canada have been actively campaigning for the reduction of salt intake in the population. In these countries, there has been a close association between government and NGO’s for this purpose. Finland was the first country to show an enormous health benefit by reducing salt in the diet. Not only the population’s health improves, there is also a great benefit in saving health expenditure related to heart revascularization and dialysis.

How does eating salt lead to or cause hypertension?

Eating salt increases the amount of salt in your blood, which ruins the balance of electrolytes and other vitamins and minerals in your body. This imbalance reduces your kidney's ability to filter out toxins from your body. It also reduces your kidney's ability to get rid of excess fluid from your body. This results in high blood pressure due to excess fluid in your body that exerts pressure on the blood vessels leading to the kidneys. 

How much is too much?

Dr Umesh Khanna, Senior Nephrologist and Secretary of Amar Gandhi Foundation said, “The WHO’s recommendation of salt intake from all sources is less than 5 grams per day. Salt or sodium is present in natural food, it is added while cooking and also used as a preservative for processed food. Considering the rapid economic growth that is happening in our country with urbanization and increased demand for processed food, it is imperative that we act at the earliest to control the salt intake of the Indian population.”

What happens when you reduce your salt intake?
“Salt or Sodium in various forms has been used as a preservative for several thousand years. It enhances the taste, prevents the growth of harmful microorganisms and can improve the texture of food, Taste is often a habit and high salt intake can saturate the taste buds. If you lower salt intake for 2 weeks you can start appreciating low salt intake and other tastes,” says Dr Umesh Khanna

What are the most common hidden sources of salt one should keep an eye out for?

Dr Umesh Khanna said, “Sodium in various forms is used as a flavouring, buffering, anticaking, leavening, thickening and stabilizing agent. The biggest culprit is in baked goods especially bread and instant noodles.”

How can a person start to reduce their salt intake?

Here are a few tips by Dr Umesh Khanna

Get used to low salt to allow the taste buds to recover: Not only does reducing your salt intake affect your blood pressure and other health parameters, it also helps you taste foods better.

Eat fresh food when possible: Since processed foods are packed with high levels of salt, switching to fresh and natural foods is the best way to reduce your daily salt intake.

Add less salt in cooking: With high amounts of salt added to food, your taste buds become immune to the level of salt and you will eventually need more salt in your food to bring out the taste you are looking for. Gradually reducing this amount will help you give up the high salt habit one step at a time. And since your taste buds will eventually become more sensitive to salt content in food, dishes made with low salt will start to taste as delicious as one with high salt content.

Do not add extra salt while at the table: A common practice in India is to provide a little bit of salt on the side of one’s plate while eating and to provide a salt shaker for one to spice up their soups. By stopping this practice, you can reduce your salt intake.

Use herbs and spices as flavouring agents: Ditch the salt and use herbs and other natural flavouring agents to your dishes that will help enhance the flavour while reducing your salt intake.

Dr Umesh Khanna, MD, DNB Nephrology, Lancelot Kidney & GI Center, Karuna Hospital & Asian Heart Institute. He is the Chairman, Mumbai Kidney Foundation, Trustee, Sapiens Health Foundation, Secretary, Mumbai Nephrology Group and the Secretary, Amar Gandhi Foundation

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