Heart disease part three: a salty story

2012-10-04 00:00

TODAY’S topic of salt is a great example of the lesson that “too much of a good thing isn’t necessarily still a good thing”. Salt is an essential compound of sodium and chloride which is needed by every cell in our bodies, and a deficiency would be most harmful. However, most foods contain more salt (sodium) than we require in a day and the body absorbs it so freely that deficiency states are exceptionally rare.

The relationship between salt intake and blood pressure is unmistakable. As soon as a person eats salted foods, the blood sodium rises and the blood pressure follows close on its heels. The effect that salt has on blood pressure is even more pronounced in those with diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), kidney disease, and people over the age of 50.

Reducing salt intake is prudent behaviour for anyone who is overweight, not consistently physically active, and/or has a family history of heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. South Africans typically eat much more salt than the safe recommended daily amount. Of great concern is that 60% of this salt comes from processed foods, including breads and cereals, which are not foods considered to be high in salt. In July this year, our government released draft regulations which will legislate lower salt content of commonly consumed processed foods, including breads, cereals, butter, gravy powders and many other foods.

In addition to the new salt laws, much can be done at home to reduce our intake of salt.

• The most obvious first step is to stop using the salt shaker. Use salt in food preparation where necessary (e.g. cooked porridge, boiling rice and pasta), but try never to add extra salt at the table. According to the South African Heart and Stroke Foundation, one in five South Africans add salt to their food before even tasting it. Stopping this bad habit will go a long way to lowering your total intake.

• Replace garlic salt and onion salt either with fresh garlic and onion, or dried flakes. They add tremendous flavour and you’ll hardly miss the salt.

• Flavour food with plenty of herbs and spices (salt-free versions, of course). Experiment with the many salt-free seasonings available such as Cajun spices, Thai seasoning, pepper, lemon pepper, paprika, ginger and cinnamon.

• Lemon or lime juice, vinegar and wine work very well on salads and in stir fries. Avoid (or severely limit) soya sauces and Worcestershire sauce which are heavily loaded with sodium.

• Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Try to avoid the preserved and processed versions.

• Avoid hot dogs, salami, luncheon meats and smoked meats. Also avoid using dried soup mixes, canned soups, canned vegetables and foods canned in brine.

• Get into the habit of reading labels. Any ingredient that mentions sodium will cause a rise in blood pressure. MSG stands for monosodium glutamate — try to avoid products with this ingredient.


• Sharon Hultzer is a consulting dietitian. She can be reached at eatsmart@ iburst.co.za

HERBS and spices are great allies in flavouring our food while trying to lower salt intake. Here are some suggestions for tasty combinations:

• basil: use with lamb, fish, eggs, vegetables and sauces.

•bay leaf: add to beef, chicken, veal and fish dishes.

• cinnamon: cook chicken, pork and fruits with cinnamon, or sprinkle it on cooked vegetables.

• ginger: use to flavour chicken, pork, fruits, vegetables and baked products.

• mustard powder: ideal to add to meats, poultry, fish and eggs.

• parsley: include in beef, chicken and fish dishes, and salads.

• rosemary: add to beef, lamb, chicken and turkey.

• thyme: use to flavour fish, meats, poultry, eggs, stuffing and vegetables.

It is best to crush or rub leaf-type herbs to release their full flavour.

Tantalise your taste buds and enjoy experimenting with new flavours. Who thought careful flavouring of your food could make such a difference to your health?

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