I like fresh lime soda and almost always hesitate when asked whether I want it sweet or salted. It’s a tough call to make, I once explained to a giggling friend, because both sugar and salt are unhealthy. “Salt is worse,” she told me firmly, and she was right. I can burn off the extra calories that I get from the sugar, but there is little I can do about the extra salt.
Salt is a confirmed health-derailer, but even people obsessed with cutting back on fats, sugar and carbohydrates do not monitor their intake of salt. Eating less salt reduces blood pressure in the medium term, reported the German Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care in Cologne this week, and is an effective non-drug treatment for high blood pressure (along with weight reduction, stress management, physical activity, quitting smoking and drinking.)
A study in the British Medical Journal last year showed that eating less salt can cut cardiovascular disease risk by a fourth and death by heart disease by a fifth over 10 to 15 years.
A healthy adult should have less than 5 gm of salt (one level teaspoon) a day but most people in India have well over twice the amount. A review of 1,701 healthy people (637 women and 1,064 men) at Sitaram Bhartia Institute, showed high levels of blood sodium, which indicated a high-salt diet.
One in three adults in urban India and one in five in rural India have hypertension (chronic high blood pressure), which is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
You need to watch out for the sodium in processed foods, which is found not only in salty foods but also in breads, biscuits and chocolate. Salt enhances taste, gives texture and also binds in water, which helps to add bulk and weight.
In middle and upper-middle class homes in India, over 50 per cent of salt comes from packaged foods like breads, processed meats, cheese, biscuits and packaged munches like chips and namkeens.
Nutritional labels on packaged foods mislead by listing the sodium, not salt content. To get the amount of salt, multiply the sodium value by 2.5. Excess salt also leads to water retention, adding at times up to a litre of water in the blood vessels. This not only makes you look plumper but also adds to the volume of blood for the heart has to pump. Cutting back on processed foods is an easy way to monitor your salt intake. Once the salt in your food goes down, so will your blood pressure and heart disease and stroke risk.