‘You need much less salt than you think’

Published - May 19, 2014 08:44 am IST - CHENNAI:

The blood pressure levels of many Indians probably rose on Friday as results of the general election poured in. Saturday though, was World Hypertension Day, designated for raising awareness about hypertension and ways to deal with it.

“This year’s theme, ‘Know your blood pressure,’ is especially relevant in our country, where an estimated 35 per cent of the adult population has high blood pressure,” said Rajan Ravichandran, director, MIOT Institute of Nephrology, MIOT Hospitals.

High blood pressure is the most common killer in the world as it is a major contributing factor to kidney disease, he noted.

“Hypertension is also a major risk factor for strokes and cardiovascular disease,” said Mathew Samuel Kalarickal, interventional cardiologist, Apollo Hospitals.

The easiest remedy to avoid it is cutting down on your salt intake, said Dr. Ravichandran.

A recent study from the World Action on Salt and Health, published in the British Medical Journal, documents the benefit of salt reduction in the English population.

According to the study, after a nationwide salt reduction programme in 2003-04, there was a decrease in the death rate due to strokes by 42 per cent and heart attacks by 40 per cent, between 2003 and 2011. Not just that, the study found salt reduction also saved money. As per its estimate, salt reduction in England had saved more than 1.5 billion pounds per annum.

The World Health Organisation recommends only 5 grams of salt a day. Children aged below 16 require even less salt. However, most Indians consume between 10 to 15 grams a day, putting them at severe risk of hypertension.

“It is a myth that in tropical countries we require more salt. The amount of salt lost through sweating is very low,” said Dr. Ravichandran.

Another problem is the lack of studies in India that estimate the sodium content in our diet.

“There have been a few studies from different parts but no large study since 1988. There is an urgent need for a study that tests sodium intake and is confirmed by urinary sodium estimation,” he said.

Other measures such as awareness programmes, labelling of sodium content on processed foods, dispelling myths about children’s need for sodium and making available low-sodium substitute foods at cheap prices were also needed, said experts.

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