It has been estimated that nearly one in every three adults has hypertension. That means that someone in your household or extended family – or perhaps even you – could have hypertension.
Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is when blood moves through your arteries at a higher pressure than normal. High blood pressure can be dangerous because it makes the heart work harder than normal and can lead to heart disease or stroke. Eating too much sodium and not enough potassium has been shown to increase blood pressure.
On 31 January, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued new recommendations on how much sodium, salt and potassium people should eat for good health. The average daily salt consumption has been found to be 8.6 grams, which is 30 per cent more than recommended.
Salt, chemically represented as NaCl, is composed of 40 per cent sodium and 60 per cent chloride. Sodium is the harmful part of salt, and too much sodium is linked with high blood pressure. Potassium, on the other hand, can be protective against high blood pressure and heart disease.
Less salt, more potassium
Salt is found in almost all foods that we buy at the grocery store, and excessive amounts of salt are often found in processed and canned foods such as papad (popadums) or soup. One cup of soup, from a can may have up to 900 milligrams of sodium while just two popadums can have up to 650 milligrams.
Cheese, pickles, chutneys, condiments such as mustard, soy sauce, and salty snacks like chevda, pretzels, crisps and salted nuts also have lots of salt. Did you know that one tablespoon of coriander chutney can have up to 300 milligrams of sodium?
Foods from restaurants, such as everyone's favourites – pizza and french fries, can also be loaded with salt and should be eaten less than once a week. Learn how to eat less salt without compromising on the great taste of foods you love.
Too much sodium in the body can cause the body to hold on to water, increasing blood volume, thereby increasing pressure. But the more potassium you have, the more it helps pull sodium out of the body through your urine, as your kidneys try to regulate the right amount your body needs of both potassium and sodium.
Try and choose potassium-rich foods more often. These include: protein foods such as beans, lentils, fish, fruits such as bananas and oranges, and vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, and spinach. Dried fruits such as dates (khajur), apricots, and figs (anjeer) are also great sources of potassium. Dairy products like milk and yogurt are also good options, as one glass of milk has about 400 milligrams of potassium.
Since an average baked potato or a three-quarter cup of beans or lentils have about 600 milligrams of potassium and half a papaya or small banana has about 400 milligrams of potassium, you can see that it's important to eat many types of these foods throughout the day to meet the amount of potassium being recommended by WHO– approximately 3 500 milligrams per day. Unless a doctor recommends taking a supplement, you do not need one and should be able to get enough potassium if you choose a variety of potassium-rich foods.
Studies have shown that eating potassium-rich foods, along with magnesium and calcium can help reduce blood pressure. More recent studies are also showing that diets high in salt could also deplete calcium from the body and that high salt intake may also be a factor in stomach cancers.
Don't contribute to the negative hypertension statistics. By eating one papad with one teaspoon of pickle, you could easily consume half a teaspoon of salt. Is it really worth it? Isn't it time for you to make some healthy changes?
Start by choosing more fresh foods. When you use canned or packaged foods, check the nutritional label for sodium (Na+) or salt content (NaCl), so that you can find lower sodium options.