Some of our diseases are the product of our choices. Essential hypertension is one such civilization disease

Everyone talks of tension in the city. There's tension caused by power cuts, unruly traffic, street-corner temples blaring music, and so on. But there's a hidden source of tension, that lies in the food that we eat. That innocuous contributor to high blood pressure is common salt.

In today's Urban Jungle column (read it here), I explore the phenomenon of salt intake and high blood pressure. The most interesting thing about hypertension is that if you cut your salt intake, the high blood pressure automatically reduces in a measurable way. The evidence on this from Professor Kiyoshi Kurokawa, the Japanese nephrologist and public health expert, was published more than a decade ago (it is on his blog post here. This full text of Dr. Kurokawa's article comes from a Distinguished Scientist Lecture Series). It has a long-term analysis of the evolution of high blood pressure among humans.

What I find troubling in our urban life is that the sale of snacks in eateries and 'grab-and-go' travel kiosks are all heavy on salt. As the picture shows, this railway station kiosk is full of attractive packaged snacks, but most are heavily salted. They are dangerously unhealthy for those who already are hypertensive, and even for those who are otherwise consuming a lot of salted food, such as pickes, papad and so on.

Salt is an acquired taste, and in my view, just as easy to let go, if you decide to. By slashing the addition of common salt in all edibles by a straight quantum, say by a quarter of the present, there can be a major public health benefit. As Professor Kurokawa says, at one time, salt was a precious commodity. If only it was as expensive as sugar, people would use a lot less of it, perhaps.