Bread could be killing South Africans

By Drum Digital
17 May 2015

Could bread be bad for your health?

South Africans eat a lot of bread and it forms part of every meal in the day, according to Dr Vash Mungal-Singh, who is the CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa (HSF).

Excess salt is known to cause high blood pressure or hypertension, which is a leading cause of heart disease and stroke in South Africa. With Sunday being World Hypertension Day (WHD), South Africans are being urged to test their blood pressure regularly as most have no idea what their blood pressure is like, and could be heading towards a health catastrophe. Regularly salting foods heightens death risk by 50%.

Foods with a lot of hidden salt include cereals, processed meat, flavouring, savoury snacks, margarine and butter. However, bread is one of the biggest culprits to our salt intake.

Salt levels in bread

"Our bread contains high levels of sodium; in fact much higher than many first world countries," Dr Mungal-Singh told Health24.

She cautioned that the high levels of salt in bread plus the high quantities of bread consumed means we are eating way too much salt in a day. "We are not even considering the salt in other foods we eat in addition to the bread." It's likely that most South Africans substantially exceed their recommended sodium intake almost every day, sometimes by a substantial margin.

With an estimated 11 million South Africans living with high blood pressure, Dr Mungal-Singh pointed out that many more people are also developing the condition at a young age, putting their health on the back foot early in life.

"Most South Africans, even those who know they have hypertension do not take this seriously enough. It is called the 'silent killer' for good reason," she said.

"We implore people to get tested. It is the only way to know what your blood pressure level is."

How to cut salt intake

Health24's resident doctor, Dr Owen Wiese, said the easiest way to reduce salt intake is to start using less when cooking as this salt tends to be less obvious when eating and can lead to consistently higher than necessary levels of salt.

He said typical symptoms of high blood pressure include fatigue, severe headaches, vision disturbance, irregular heart beat and chest pains. However, Dr Wiese noted that one of the biggest challenges is that it often presents with no symptoms for many people.

"One can therefore suffer from the condition without knowing it, until it's far too late."

Check your blood pressure

Dr Wiese added that it is important to check your blood pressure regularly, especially for people who have a family history of hypertension, heart or kidney disease.

Once hypertension is diagnosed, he advised that lifestyle changes are crucial to managing the condition.

"These include losing weight, following a healthy diet, checking and limiting your dietary sodium intake, engaging in physical activity, using alcohol moderately and not smoking."

Dr Wiese warned that if hypertension is not treated it could lead to coronary heart disease, heart failure, strokes, kidney damage and eye damage.

Legislation for sodium content

To help regulate salt content in foods, the Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi proposed legislation in 2012 to cut the sodium content of certain foods, including bread.

The rules for an ordinary loaf of bread are 400mg of sodium per 100g by 30 June 2016 and 370mg sodium per 100g by 30 June 2018.

However, with about a year away from the first target, breads like Albany, Blue Ribbon, Sasko and Sunbake is making little progress to meet this target.

Health24 failed to get a response from major bread manufacturers Pioneers Foods, Tiger Brands and Premier Foods when contacted for comment.



Find Love!