Salt, an essential element in every kitchen, contributes flavour to our meals while also acting as a preservative for a variety of foods. Salt is important in India, where a plethora of spices and flavours define our culinary heritage.
A healthy human requires about 8 gms of salt in a day, which is approximately one and a half teaspoons on an average, but in India people tend to consume about 10-12 gms in a single day, which is double the amount of salt recommended (5g/d).
Evidence from a wide variety of studies shows that a high salt intake is linked to adverse health outcomes, including increased blood pressure.
This blog dives into the reality regarding this amazing electrolyte, its relationship to hypertension, and how Indian cuisine fits into this complicated equation.
Salt and hypertension
First things first, let’s break down the salt and hypertension connection. Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is a silent but potentially life-threatening illness. For decades, healthcare professionals have tried and failed to get Indians to eat less salt, as they claimed that excessive salt consumption causes hypertension.
What effect does salt have on blood pressure? The answer lies in its impact on the body’s water balance. Studies that have explored the direct relationship between salt and heart disease have evidenced that high salt consumption upsets the delicate balance of sodium and potassium, which are important electrolytes that maintain fluid levels. This imbalance causes greater fluid retention, which causes the heart to work harder to pump blood, eventually raising blood pressure.
Indian diets and salt
Indian cuisine is renowned for its rich flavours and deft use of spices. It is distinguished, however, by its copious use of salt, both during cooking and as a finishing touch. Traditional Indian palates frequently prefer salty flavours, resulting in increased salt consumption. This taste for salt isn’t limited to home-cooked meals; it also extends to commercial and restaurant items. Snacks like bhujia, chutneys, and pickles, while delicious to the taste, can be high in salt. Studies reveal that Indian diets often exceed the World Health Organization’s recommended limit of 5 grams of salt per day. And this overload might be silently paving the way for hypertension. Our taste buds are accustomed to a high-salt diet. However, it’s important to remember that change is possible, and it’s never too late for a taste bud timeout.
Processed foods containing hidden salt
While we might diligently monitor the salt we add while cooking, sodium sneaks into our diets from various sources like packaged foods, pickles, and even bread! No wonder it feels like playing a game of ‘hide and seek’ with sodium. In the past few decades, the Indian market has seen an invasion of preserved and packaged foods, which has greatly increased the ordinary Indian’s salt intake. Manufacturers have packed extra salt into most ready-to-eat foods, like packaged salty snacks, pickles, breads, bottled sauces, salad dressings, quick noodles and canned soups. What’s concerning is that customers frequently ignore nutrition labels, blind to the sodium level that this can lead to all sorts of health problems, like chronic inflammation, heart failure, kidney problems and stroke. It is recommended that while eating out, individuals should be wary of items classified as pickled, brined, grilled, cured, smoked, or soy sauce. These are typically heavy in salt.
Salt reduction does not imply sacrificing flavor. Indian cuisine is very adaptable, and even minor changes can make a big difference. The easiest strategy to reduce your salt intake is to switch from salted namkeens and snacks to fresh foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, homemade dressings and sauces. Other seasonings, such as pepper, oregano, lemon, and garlic, can also help. Herbs and spices such as turmeric, cumin, and coriander can help to increase flavour without relying entirely on salt. Lemon juice, yogurt-based sauces, and fresh vegetables like tomatoes and onions can make dishes more tangy and pleasant.
Public education and awareness
It is vital to raise the necessary awareness about the negative effects of a high-salt diet. Individuals can be educated about the need to gradually reduce salt intake in order to promote general health and well-being. Schools, workplaces, and healthcare facilities can all help to raise awareness about the hazards of excessive salt consumption and promote healthier eating habits.
So, how can we end this salty affair? It’s simpler than you think! Here are some dietary changes to keep hypertension at bay:
Spice it up
Indian cuisine is rich in a variety of spices. Amplify the use of these flavours over salt to enhance your meals.
Fresh and seasonal
Opt for fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables as they are naturally low in sodium and high in potassium, which helps lower blood pressure.
Switch from processed foods to whole foods. Choose unsalted nuts over salted ones and whole grains over processed cereals.
Become a food label detective. Look for foods labeled ‘sodium-free,’ ‘low-sodium,’ or ‘no added salt.’
Lifestyle changes: Beyond diet
While diet plays a significant role, let’s also look at the bigger picture – lifestyle changes.
Regular exercise can help reduce blood pressure by strengthening the heart, reducing stress, and aiding in maintaining a healthy weight.
Maintaining a healthy weight is vital. Even a small weight loss can make a big difference in managing blood pressure.
Alcohol can raise blood pressure levels. It’s essential to consume alcohol in moderation.
Although salt is an important part of Indian culture and cuisine, its link to hypertension should not be neglected. The justification for limiting salt consumption, particularly in the context of traditional Indian cuisine, is compelling. To save an estimated 7 million lives by 2030, highly cost-effective salt reduction programmes must be implemented. To save an estimated 7 million lives by 2030, highly cost-effective salt reduction programmes must be implemented.
We can ensure that the flavours of Indian cuisine continue to tantalize your taste buds while nourishing our well-being by making thoughtful choices, adopting healthier alternatives, and limiting food accompaniments such as salted butter, salty spice mixes (chaat masala, jal jeera masala, etc.), chutneys, pickles, papads, ketchups, sauces and dressings, etc.
Here’s to sprinkling not just salt, but health, happiness, and balance into our lives!