Ease up on the salt and give your kidneys a break

PREPARE to be surprised: You may be eating much more salt than you thought you were, and if you have high-blood pressure, this hidden salt intake could be making it even harder to bring your blood pressure down.

We do need some salt in our diets, but in modern times our actual intake vastly outstrips our needs in day-to-day life.

When scientists compared the likely diet of humans in the stone-age with western developed cultures, they found that we're eating lots more salt, and often aren't aware of how much because it's hidden in processed food.

Manufacturers use salt to enhance the flavour of their product and our palates have adjusted to continually seek out salty foods in preference.

Consider that the recommended intake of salt (as sodium) per day is 2400mg or less. Research indicates our actual intake in the western world is 3000mg or even more. Here's a brief comparison: One anchovy, that piquant salty fish, will contain about 243mg of sodium.

One 50g packet of potato crisps about 239mg, a famous name burger 958mg, and one piece of a certain branded fried chicken breast contains a smidgen over 1000mg.

If you eat food out of a packet, indulge in take-away regularly, or routinely reach for the salt shaker at the dinner table, you can see how your salt intake could be well above the recommended limit.

One of the main reasons we're encouraged to reduce our salt intake is because of the effect it has on blood pressure. Your kidneys work hard to maintain the correct salt balance in your blood.

As your salt intake increases, your kidneys compensate by increasing the fluid volume to dilute the salt.

The resulting extra volume of blood increases the pressure on your artery walls. Higher blood pressure increases your susceptibility to cardiovascular events like stroke; so it's well worth taking a moment to review how much salt you're consuming.

When you want to reduce the amount of salt in your diet, even a gradual, moderate reduction will make a positive difference in your blood pressure; and the easiest way to do this is twofold.

First, focus on increasing the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet. It always feels easier when you're changing your diet to focus on what you can add in rather than what you have to cut out.

Secondly, start reading the salt content of packaged foods, and deliberately choose the salt-reduced option.

Naturally, steering away from the takeaway outlets will help too. Your kidneys and your arteries will thank you.

Topics:  nutrition olwen anderson

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