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The spice could increase risk of hypertension

By Vision Reporter

Added 2nd November 2008 03:00 AM

YOU may have been eating just a pinch of table salt to reduce on your sodium intake, but it could add up to unhealthy levels, especially when you consume foods that contain more than enough sodium.

YOU may have been eating just a pinch of table salt to reduce on your sodium intake, but it could add up to unhealthy levels, especially when you consume foods that contain more than enough sodium.

By Fred Ouma

YOU may have been eating just a pinch of table salt to reduce on your sodium intake, but it could add up to unhealthy levels, especially when you consume foods that contain more than enough sodium.

Health experts say about 11% of sodium in the average Ugandan’s diet comes from adding salt or other sodium-containing condiments to foods while cooking or eating.

But the majority of the sodium comes from eating prepared or processed foods that contain the mineral. So even if you limit the amount of salt you add to your food, the food may already be high in sodium.

Essential in small amounts
Your body needs some sodium to function properly. It helps maintain the right balance of fluids in your body, transmit nerve impulses and influences the contraction and relaxation of muscles, says Prof. Andrew Otim, a diet specialist.

“Your kidneys regulate the amount of sodium in your body,” he explains. “When sodium levels are low, your kidneys conserve sodium. When levels are high, they excrete the excess amount in urine.”

Otim says if your kidneys cannot eliminate enough sodium, it starts to accumulate in your blood. Because sodium attracts and holds water, your blood volume increases.

Increased blood volume makes your heart work harder to move more blood through your blood vessels, increasing pressure in your arteries.

“Certain diseases such as congestive heart failure, cirrhosis and chronic kidney disease can lead to an inability to regulate sodium,” he adds.

Some people are sensitive to the effects of sodium, says Emmanuel Sekasanvu, a specialist in internal medicine at Mulago Hospital. People who are sensitive to sodium retain it more easily, leading to excess fluid retention and increased blood pressure.

“If you are in that group, extra sodium in your diet increases your chances of developing high blood pressure, a condition that can lead to cardiovascular and kidney diseases,” says Sekasanvu.

Sources of sodium
l Processed and prepared foods: Most sodium in a person’s diet comes from eating processed and prepared foods, such as canned vegetables, soups, luncheon meats and frozen foods, says Sekasanvu.

“Food manufacturers use salt or other sodium-containing compounds to preserve food and to improve the taste and texture of food.”

Sodium-containing condiments:
One teaspoon of table salt has 2,325mg of sodium and one tablespoon of soy sauce has 1,005mg of sodium.

Experts agree that adding these or other sodium-laden condiments to your meals, either while cooking or at table, raises the sodium count of food.

Natural sources of sodium: Sodium naturally occurs in some foods, such as meat, poultry, dairy products and vegetables.

For example, one cup of low-fat milk has about 110mg of sodium. Whether food comes by its sodium naturally or not, your daily intake can add up quickly when you tally the sodium from all your meals and snacks.

How to cut down on your sodium intake:
Be a savvy shopper:
Taste alone may not tell you which foods are high in sodium. Dan Kugonza, the standards officer of the Uganda National Bureau of Standards, says: “The nutrition label tells you how much sodium is in each serving.

It also states whether salt or sodium-containing compounds are ingredients.”

How to control sodium intake:
Eat more fresh foods and fewer processed foods. Most fresh fruits and vegetables are naturally low in sodium. Also, fresh meat is lower in sodium than luncheon meat, bacon, hot dogs, sausage and ham.

Opt for low-sodium products. If you buy processed foods, select those that have reduced sodium.

Remove salt from recipes whenever possible. You can leave out the salt in many recipes, including casseroles, stews and other main dishes.

Baked goods are an exception. Leaving out the salt could affect the quality as well as the taste of the food.

Limit your use of sodium-laden condiments like salad dressings, sauces, ketchup and mustard.

Use herbs, spices and other flavours to enhance foods. Learn how to use fresh or dried herbs, spices, zest from citrus fruit and fruit juices to jazz up your meals.

Use salt substitutes wisely. Some salt substitutes or light salts contain a mixture of table salt (sodium chloride) and other compounds.

To achieve that familiar salty taste, you may use too much of the substitute and actually not reduce your sodium intake. In addition, many salt substitutes contain potassium chloride.

Though dietary potassium can lessen some of the harm of excess sodium, too much supplemental potassium can be harmful if you have kidney problems or if you are taking medications for congestive heart failure or high blood pressure that cause potassium retention.

Your taste for salt is acquired, so it is reversible, says Otim. To unlearn this salty savouring, he advises decreasing your use of salt gradually and your taste buds will adjust.

Most people find that after a few weeks of cutting their salt intake, they no longer miss it.

Start by using no more than a-quarter teaspoon of added salt daily, then gradually reduce to no salt add-ons.

“As you use less salt, your preference for it lessens, allowing you to enjoy the taste of food,” notes Otim.

You may or may not be particularly sensitive to the effects of sodium. But because you cannot know if you might develop high blood pressure as a result of a high-sodium diet, experts recommend choosing and preparing foods with less sodium.

How much sodium do you need?
The recommended daily sodium intake is between 1,500mg-2,400mg for healthy adults. A lower sodium intake has a more beneficial effect on blood pressure.

“If you are older than 50 or have a health condition such as high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease or diabetes, you may be more sensitive to the blood pressure-raising effects of sodium,” says Otim, who is also the chairman of Uganda Diabetes Association.

A low sodium intake is recommended for healthy adults.

The spice could increase risk of hypertension

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