Indians are eating too much salt and it's quite harmful; experts on what to eat and avoid for reducing intake
Excess salt consumption can wreak havoc on our health. The most common consequence is increased blood pressure which also puts added strain on the heart.
Indians are consuming 8g of salt per day exceeding the recommended daily intake limit of 5g said a study published in the journal Nature Portfolio. The high salt diet may be putting us at a high risk of many health disorders from high blood pressure, stomach ulcers to cardiovascular issues. Excessive salt intake can also affect kidney function. While some amount of salt is important for important function of the body, too much of it on a regular basis may lead to many chronic diseases. It is important to cut salt from the diet and consume home-cooked food instead of store-bought as packaged food like namkeens, canned vegetables, pickles, biscuits, potato chips have high amounts of sodium which could be harmful to health. (Also read: Heart attack in teenagers: Healthy habits for adolescents to prevent heart diseases)
"Apart from raising blood pressure, high salt diets have been linked to digestive issues like stomach ulcers. Excessive sodium intake can irritate the lining of the stomach and increase acidity levels. This imbalance can cause inflammation and discomfort while also potentially contributing to ulcer formation. It is crucial to be mindful of our salt consumption for optimal health," says Dr Manjusha Agarwal, Senior Consultant- Internal Medicine, Global Hospitals, Parel Mumbai.
"Excess salt consumption can wreak havoc on the body in several ways. The most apparent consequence is increased blood pressure which puts added strain on the heart leading to compromised heart functioning ultimately resulting in a series of diseases causing serious pressure and damage of other body organs. Excessive salt intake can also negatively impact kidney function. The kidneys work to filter waste products from the bloodstream, but when there is an excess of sodium in the body, this process becomes complicated. As a result, the kidneys work harder to eliminate the additional salt, leading to potential kidney damage over time," says Riya Desai, Senior Dietitian, Wockhardt Hospitals, Mira Road.
"Salt is the most important ingredient of our diet and what it contains is 40% sodium and 60% Chloride. Consuming too much of salt can lead to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and complications of same," says Dr Bharat Jagiasi, Director, Critical Care Medicine at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital Navi Mumbai.
"High salt intake causes high blood pressure and water retention that puts more pressure on heart. Studies have shown increase incidence of heart disease in personnel with high salt intake. High blood pressure, which can result from excessive salt consumption, is a leading cause of strokes. Strokes can result in serious disability or death. The kidneys play a crucial role in regulating sodium levels in the body. Excessive salt intake can put strain on the kidneys and may contribute to kidney disease over time," adds Dr Jagiasi.
"Human cells require approximately 0.5 grams of sodium per day to maintain vital functions. Unfortunately, many food preservatives contain high levels of sodium, contributing significantly to elevated dietary sodium intake. This excessive sodium consumption is a leading cause of chronic comorbidities, including hypertension, heart failure (HF), chronic kidney disease, stroke, cardiovascular diseases, and increased mortality," says Indusha, Dietitian, Dept of Clinical Nutrition, Amrita Hospital, Kochi.
"High sodium intake correlates with increased blood pressure levels and is associated with various physiological changes. These changes encompass water retention, heightened systemic peripheral resistance, alterations in endothelial function, modifications in the structure and function of large elastic arteries, shifts in sympathetic activity, and alterations in autonomic neuronal modulation of the cardiovascular system. Consequently, current guidelines recommend limiting sodium consumption to 2–3 grams per day," adds Indusha.
High sodium foods that can be harmful for health
Dr Agarwal says it's not just savoury dishes that can contribute significantly to your daily sodium intake, baked goods may also do the damage.
"Take a closer look at your favourite bread or pastry recipe ingredients and you'll likely find added salt to enhance taste and texture. Even whole wheat bread can harbour high levels of sodium due to added preservatives. Namkeens, canned vegetables, pickles, biscuits, potato chips, and even flavoured popcorn often come packed with excessive amounts of salt for increased flavour appeal. These snacks make it effortless to consume large quantities of sodium without realizing it and contribute heavily to your overall intake throughout the day," says Dr Agarwal.
"One often overlooked source of hidden sodium is condiments, Sauces, Ketchup, Barbecue sauce, and Soy sauce contain alarming amounts of sodium to enhance flavour and preserve freshness," says Desai.
"Processed foods such as meat uses high salt as preservatives as it controls the growth of bacteria. It is used in snacks such as chips, nuts for taste. Pickles are essentially a salty solution making them high in sodium. Cheese is processed and even little of regular cheese can add to salt intake," says Dr Jagiasi.
How to reduce salt
When one dines out, he/she will not be able to control the amount of salt that sneaks into the meals. By cooking at home more frequently, one regains control over what ingredients we use and how much salt is added during preparation. Try to eat a well-balanced diet inclusive of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains instead of processed and canned foods.
"Common foods like smoked, cured, salted, or canned meat, fish, poultry, and salted nuts, as well as many processed foods, contain excessive amounts of sodium. To manage high sodium intake, it is advisable to restrict the consumption of processed foods and consider using salt substitutes such as spices in your diet," says Indusha.
How to reduce salt in the diet
Salt is often used to enhance the flavour of food, but there are numerous alternatives that can add a burst of taste without the sodium content.
"Herbs like basil, parsley, or rosemary can elevate any dish, while spices such as cumin or turmeric lend a unique twist. One can also include amchur, lemon, cinnamon, jeera powder, black pepper powder to enhance the taste. By embracing these flavourful additions, you'll reduce your reliance on salt and discover a whole new world of tantalizing flavours. Processed foods contain staggering amounts of sodium that can skyrocket our daily intake without us even realizing it. Take the time to read labels diligently to identify high-salt products and opt for low-sodium alternatives whenever possible. This simple habit will enable you to make healthier and more informed choices about what goes into your body. Monitor the salt consumption by seeking an expert’s advice," says Dr Agarwal.
Dr Jagiasi shares ways to reduce high salt intake in daily diet:
To reduce salt intake and promote better health:
Read food labels: Pay attention to the sodium content listed on food labels. Choose products with lower sodium levels or opt for low-sodium alternatives when available.
Cook at home: Preparing meals at home allows you to control the amount of salt in your dishes. Use fresh herbs, spices, and other flavourings to season your food instead of salt.
Limit processed foods: Processed and packaged foods, such as canned soups, frozen meals, and snacks, often contain high levels of salt. Try to minimize your consumption of these items.
Choose low-sodium alternatives: When buying canned vegetables or beans, choose the low-sodium or no-salt-added versions.
Be mindful when dining out: Restaurant meals often contain more salt than homemade dishes. While eating at restaurants we tend eat high sodium containing foods like pickle, papad, sauces.
Gradual reduction: If you are used to high salt intake and its difficult for you to cut down, reduce your salt intake gradually, your taste buds will adjust over time and be more sensitive to extra salt.