So what’s wrong with eating too much salt?

We’re told it over and over again, from health professionals to nosy neighbours.. but are you aware of the facts?

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There is now overwhelming evidence that high salt intake can raise blood pressure and lead to increased risk of hypertension. High blood pressure in turn leads to increased risk of strokes, heart attacks, renal failure and eye problems. There is also evidence that high salt intake may increase the risk of developing stomach cancer and perhaps even osteoporosis (brittle bones). Almost a quarter of adults in this country have hypertension rising from just about 1% of those aged under 25years to around 70% of those aged over 75 years – how many elderly people do you know who are not taking pills for their blood pressure?

The main difficulty with reducing salt intake is that as much as 85% of the salt we consume is already in our food when we buy it. A small amount of this (say 10%) is naturally present in foods but most of it is added by food processors and manufacturers. The amount of salt we add to food in cooking and at the table amounts to only about 15% of our total intake so the scope for reduction here is quite small – note that much of the salt used in cooking vegetables, pasta and rice is often thrown away with the cooking water.

In order to make big reductions in our salt intake we must buy less salty processed foods and get manufacturers to reduce their salt content or produce low salt options e.g. food canned in water rather than brine. High salt foods include all preserved and cooked meats (like bacon, corned beef and pate), smoked fish, canned vegetables and soups, pickles and relishes ready meals and pizzas, salty snacks, take-away foods, cheese, some breakfast cereals and even bread contains a fair amount of salt. Some foods could not be made or could not be safely sold without use of reasonable amounts of salt although manufacturers often use more salt than is necessary. They are being encouraged to reduce the amount of salt they use in their processes to the minimum necessary; some progress has been made in this direction.

There are other things apart from salt that contribute to high blood pressure such as being overweight and heavy alcohol drinking so these are also targets for people worried about their blood pressure.

On a more positive note, there is also strong evidence that high potassium intake tends to counteract the effect of salt upon blood pressure. Fruits and vegetables are the best sources of potassium so this is yet one more reason for trying to get your five portions of fruit and vegetables each day. Taking regular moderate exercise and stopping smoking will also reduce the risks associated with high blood pressure.

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Dr Geoff isn’t finished with salt yet! Check back soon to see another Did you know? post!

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