Pulse

Salt — just a pinch will do

RAJAN RAVICHANDRAN | Updated on January 08, 2018

Indians take in thrice as much salt per day as the WHO recommends

A taste-enhancer that wreaks harm

About 9.8 million people die every year due to hypertension-related complications, according to WHO. Commonly termed ‘blood pressure’, hypertension is a silent killer causing heart disease, kidney failure and strokes. About 35 per cent of the world population above 25 suffers from hypertension.

One of the important strategies to lower hypertension and its complications is curbing salt intake. Developed countries like Finland, the UK, Australia and Canada have been campaigning for salt reduction.

In these countries, there has been a close association between the government and NGOs for this purpose. Finland was the first country to show the enormous health benefits of reducing salt in the diet. Not only the does this improve people’s health, but also leads to savings on health expenditure.

Indians’ salt intake is 10-15 grams per day. There is a paucity of recent data in the country about the sodium content of processed food. The WHO’s recommendation on salt intake from all sources is less than 5 grams per day.

Salt, or sodium, is present in natural food, gets added while cooking, and also used as a preservative for processed food. Considering the rapid economic growth that is leading to urbanisation and increased resort to processed food, it is imperative that we speed up to control salt intake by people.

Salt has been used in various forms for thousands of years. It enhances the taste and texture of foods, and prevents growth of harmful microorganisms. But high salt intake can saturate taste-buds. Lower salt intake for two weeks, and you will start appreciating other tastes.

With refrigeration , ultrafiltration, vacuum packing, and so on, no longer do we need to rely on sodium for preserving food. In this, important is the role of food manufacturers, who should voluntarily bring down the salt content. The UK has been successful in this respect and the population’s salt intake has dropped by 2 gm in the last decade.

Food-makers should also be more cautious in the use of sodium in various forms like phosphate, bicarbonate, nitrate, sulfite and so on for flavouring, buffering, leavening, thickening or stabilising. The major problem foods are bread and instant noodles.

Sapiens Health Foundation, an NGO committed to the cause of kidney failure patients, hopes to take forward its anti-salt campaign by hosting the ‘SALT 5ight conference’.

The idea is to create awareness among people on the ideal level of salt intake, the relationship between salt and disease specially hypertension, and measures to reduce salt consumption.

Sapiens, partnering IIT-Madras, plans to involve the government and to persuade it to consider a law making it mandatory for food labels to carry the sodium or salt content. It also hoping to get on board food manufacturers to actively reduce sodium in processed food.

The chief speaker at the November 11 conference at IIT-Madras, will be Prof Graham MacGregor of WASH (World Action on Salt and Hypertension) from the UK. He willhighlight the measures taken by developed countries, especially the UK, to reduce salt content in food. WHO will also be a part ofi the conference.

The writer is Director, Madras Institute of Nephrology, Chennai

Published on October 13, 2017

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