In recent times, hypertension or high blood pressure has become one of the major causes of concern for countries across the world. In India, the condition is equally bad with one in three Indians suffering from hypertension and things are expected to worsen in the coming years unless we take stringent action. Studies show that a high salt intake affects not just an individual’s blood pressure, but also increases the risk of proteinuria, stroke and cardiovascular problems.
How salt increases your blood pressure
When we say salt is the culprit in hypertension, we are essentially talking of sodium which is present in the form of sodium chloride in most foods. Sodium is necessary for normal functioning of the body. However, when there is an excess, it causes the body to retain more water and this causes the volume of blood to increase; in turn causing an increase in blood pressure. It is also believed that sodium acts on the heart cells as well as blood vessels and makes them tough; in turn, this reduces the ability to contract and expand normally.
The blood pressure fluctuates with a variation in the intake of salt – this is called as salt sensitivity. Although there are significant variations, the fact is that the elderly, obese persons and persons with chronic kidney disease are more likely to show such sensitivity.
Recommended Sodium Intake
Studies have shown that a reduction in the amount of sodium consumed through the diet leads to a noticeable decrease of blood pressure and therefore, it is important to keep salt intake as low as possible. According to the World Health Organization, the daily consumption of salt should not exceed 5 grams or one teaspoon. Contrast this with the average Indian salt consumption of 9 to 10 grams per day and you know why hypertension is such a problem for us. In India, hypertension has been implicated as a cause for 24 percent of the deaths due to heart attack and 57 percent of the deaths due to stroke. Therefore, it is vital we pay attention to regulating the amount of salt we consume on a daily basis.
Here are some tips to reduce your sodium intake:
1. Avoid processed foods that often contain high concentrations of sodium; typical examples are foods whose labels list sodium chloride, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) or monosodium glutamate (MSG).
2. Avoid restaurant-prepared food such as pizza, pasta and noodles that are decorated with a variety of sauces.
3. Avoid salads with dressings and fast foods that make use of masala rich in salt.
4. Do not eat too much bread, chips, cereals, instant-cooking oats, crackers, salted nuts, cheese-based foods, soups, ketchups, sauces and canned foods.
5. Avoid consuming sweet baked foods frequently. They contain salt although they may not exhibit a salty taste; this is because baking powder or baking soda that is used in the manufacturing process is a salt of sodium.
6. Traditional Indian foods such as pickles and papads use salt for its taste as well as preservative action. Cut down on your consumption of such items and your dietary salt intake is bound to reduce.
7. Many of us also use salt while preparing the dough for chapatti, roti or naan; either avoid adding salt altogether or reduce the amount you add.
8. Our Indian chutneys, vegetable dishes and other accompaniments also contain a significant amount of salt; try to substitute some of the salt with fresh lemon juice that gives an appetizing tangy flavor, too.
9. When choosing nuts or butter, avoid the salted variety and go for the salt-free versions that are available.
10. Keep away from potato chips and French fries; when you feel the need to snack, choose fruits over these.
Hypertension is most linked to stroke and coronary artery disease; however, it is also known to be a culprit in cases of heart enlargement, heart failure, dementia, kidney failure, sexual dysfunction, damage to the eye, bone loss and sleep apnea. So, make sure you do not exceed the recommended quantity of 5 grams of salt a day and you can reduce your chances of developing hypertension or preventing complications of uncontrolled hypertension if you already suffer from it.