Salt forms an integral part of every meal and is a necessity for a heart healthy diet. However, excessive amounts of salt in diets can put you at risk of several lifestyle disorders such as high blood pressure. It can lead to water retention and can result in life threatening ailments like cardiovascular disease and sudden cardiac arrests.
“Extra amount of sodium in the bloodstream pulls water into the blood vessels. This increases the total amount or volume of blood inside the blood vessels, which leads to increase in blood pressure. Gradually, high blood pressure may cause stretching of, or injury to, the blood vessel walls and speed up the build-up of plaque, thus blocking the blood flow,” explains Dr K K Aggarwal from Delhi, who is the national president of the Indian Medical Association (IMA).
The terms salt and sodium are often used interchangeably; however, they mean different things. Salt comprises sodium and chloride. It is the sodium in salt that can be bad for your heart. While salt is essential for life, it is important to consume the right kind and maintain a proper salt-to-potassium ratio. “The recommended dietary sodium intake for the general population is less than 2,300 mg per day ( six grams of common salt),” advises Dr K K Aggarwal.
So the million dollar question is, how does one reduce the consumption of salt? It is noteworthy that more than 75% of the sodium we consume comes from packaged and restaurant foods. Take note of the following points in order to cut back on salt consumption.
1. “Compare labels of packaged foods and choose the product with the lowest amount of sodium (per serving). Foods we would never think of as salty, such as breakfast cereals, cookies, and even some soft drinks, often contain large amounts of salt percentage,” says Dr Manoj Kumar, who is the head of the Cardiac Cath Lab, Max Balaji, in Patparganj (Delhi).
2. Choose fresh and frozen poultry that has not been injected with a sodium solution. Select sauces, salad dressings, dips etc. with low sodium content. Choose canned vegetables that have no added salt. Also while eating out, control the portion sizes.
3. While cooking, use onions, garlic, herbs, spices, citrus juices and vinegar instead of salt to add flavour to your food. A study published in the British Medical Journal revealed that when people with pre-hypertension (blood pressure >120/80 and <140/90 mmHg) reduced their salt intake by about 25–35%, they were 25% less likely to develop cardiovascular disease 10 to 15 years after the trial ended. Additionally, there was a 20% lower death rate from cardiovascular disease among people who reduced their salt consumption.
4. “Include foods with potassium in your diet, such as sweet potatoes, potatoes, greens, tomatoes and low-sodium tomato sauce, white beans, kidney beans, non-fat yogurt, oranges, and bananas. Potassium counters the effects of sodium and may help lower blood pressure,” advises Dr Manoj Kumar.